Sri Lanka's batsmen find their fight
Barring extraordinary events, Sri Lanka are still going to lose the second Test - and potentially by an innings - but they were not, to borrow one of Angelo Mathews' words, humiliated on the third day as they made England work hard for their successes in
Barring extraordinary events, Sri Lanka are still going to lose the second Test - and potentially by an innings - but they were not, to borrow one of Angelo Mathews
' words, humiliated on the third day as they made England work hard for their rewards in the follow-on. The captain himself played a large part in that, Mathews striking a bristling 80, while there were also half-centuries for Kaushal Silva
and Dinesh Chandimal
leaving Sri Lanka needing 88 more to make England bat again.
Mahela Jayawardene, one of the players Sri Lanka are trying to learn to live without, talked of setting little targets and trying to make small gains after three consecutive innings that had not crossed 120 - the first time since 1958 that had happened to a Test side. In that regard, removing the match situation for a moment, Sri Lanka's second innings was a considerable success. In the first three innings of the series they had totalled 311 for 30, so 309 for 5 represented a heartening reversal.
Silva and Mathews added 82 in 21 overs either side of tea as Silva battled against the quicks and Mathews took on Moeen Ali in one of the better contests of the series to date. That partnership was then bettered as Sri Lanka's highest for the series by Chandimal and Milinda Siriwardana as they added an unbroken 87 to the close.
Both Silva and Mathews fell short of the three figures that would have been a significant tick for Sri Lanka, Silva getting into a tangle against Steven Finn and Mathews receiving a superb delivery from James Anderson
whose series haul was 15 wickets at 8.06 by the end of the day. Three of the second-innings wickets involved catches for Jonny Bairstow, taking his series tally to 16 which was one short of the England record for a three-match series of 17 held by Geraint Jones, also against Sri Lanka in 2006.
Chandimal, who had dropped down to No. 6, brought up his fifty off 95 balls late in the day with a pristine cover drive off Stuart Broad after England had a late dart with the second new ball but there was a hint of weariness in their legs following a first significant spell in the field for the series.
Sri Lanka were batting a second time after less than four overs of the morning, but they immediately made a better fist of things as England's successes came at a trickle rather than a surge. Chris Woakes put in an impressive first spell and he broke the opening stand when Dimuth Karunaratne edged to second slip. Shortly after lunch Anderson responded to being taken for three boundaries in five balls by producing a beauty which ended Kusal Mendis' feisty 22-ball 26. There was a change in the batting order as Lahiru Thirimanne, who had started the day at the crease, was promoted to No. 4 but again he could not break through the teens when he received a lovely delivery from Moeen which straightened from around the wicket to take off stump.
Moeen was removed from the attack straight after that wicket, to be replaced by Finn who remained the least convincing of England's bowlers as he laboured for rhythm - there could be an tricky decision for the selectors to make on his home ground at Lord's for the third Test - although in his post-tea spell that accounted for Silva he showed improvement.
Silva had been resolute as he brought up a 111-ball half-century. He had one iffy moment on 16 when he drove at Woakes and edged wide of Joe Root at second slip; the absence of a third slip was strange given England's vast lead and Woakes' probing spell. Other than that, though, Silva was compact, punching and driving strongly off the front foot, until trying to shovel a shorter delivery into the leg side and popping up a top edge.
Mathews made an uncertain start, edging Anderson third ball low towards second slip but the catch was not taken cleanly - confirmation coming after a brief look by the TV umpire - and next ball was beaten by an unplayable delivery which prompted Alastair Cook to mistakenly review. As he settled, Mathews started to show more intent, three times clubbing Moeen over mid-off before tea.
That contest continued after the interval and Mathews could have been stumped for 36 when he missed a wider delivery but Bairstow was unable to gather a tough take. He went to his combative half-century from 63 balls and also brought out a reverse sweep against Moeen: Mathews would finish with 46 runs off the 46 deliveries he faced from the spinner. With a century in sight, the ball to dismiss him came after a grubber had shot past his off stump but it was also another magnificent piece of skill from Anderson.
With the wicket of Mathews, England sniffed the chance of another three-day finish but Sri Lanka did not fold. Chandimal finally found his feet and followed Mathews' lead by taking on Moeen while Siriwardana avoided a pair and played some pleasing strokes in the closing stages. The pair could stride off content in the evening sunlight. After Headingley and the first two days here it was hard for things to get much worse for Sri Lanka, but the fact they have managed to make things considerably better can leave them in good heart.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo