Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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While his team launched into a celebratory huddle, Alastair Cook knew what he had heard. The edge from Nuwan Pradeep into his pad, which Paul Reiffel missed, was big enough for Cook to pick it from slip. A few moments later the DRS confirmed that what, for seconds, was a Test victory had been snatched away from them.
Then, to add to the agony for the England captain, he watched the last ball of the Test fall agonisingly short of second slip. Stuart Broad fell to his knees and the slips stood motionless until the handshakes started.
"I didn't really move too far from my bar stool at first slip," Cook said. "I did think he nicked it but they everyone started saying it was two pads, so I kind of got excited. But it was a big noise."
He had a wry smile when it was put to him that the decision was vindication of the DRS, a system that England have always been a supporter of and that, last year, England were grateful for when it confirmed Brad Haddin out at Trent Bridge to secure a 14-run win. "Yeah," he said, with the hint of a laugh. "I've always been a big fan of it, it's to stop the howler and unfortunately that was a big inside edge. It's gutting to take at that time.
"But there was the lbw before the new ball from Chris Jordan which was overturned because it was the right decision. As players you want the right decision, even if it's not great at this precise moment in time when it's taken a Test win away but it was the right decision."
The fact England reached the final over needing two wickets for victory, which became one when Broad had Rangana Herath gloving down the leg side - although replays showed Herath's glove was off the bat - was testament to some tireless work either side of tea, sparked by James Anderson's removal of Mahela Jayawardene during a wonderful spell of reverse swing, and then a powerful burst with the new ball which reduced Sri Lanka from 159 for 2 with the game seemingly dead.
"At tea it looked quite a long way away but when you get so close and then get a decision which wins you a Test overturned it's quite hard to take," Cook said. "But it was a great Test, that's what it's about, to go all the way down to the wire and for both sides to leave nothing out there."
Cook showed invention in the field during the match, although largely in the final session after England waited desperately for the ball to reverse, but acknowledged that an 8-1 field which appeared after tea - including a circle of close catchers on the off side - had been the work of Anderson. "I wish I could take credit, but I can't." he said.
With England coming so close to victory there will inevitably be further debate of Cook's declaration which came before play on the final morning rather than late on the fourth day to give his quicks an early dart with new ball.
Cook said the batting collapse on Sunday afternoon - which left them 121 for 6, a lead of 243 - had cost them valuable time, meaning they could not accelerate until the closing overs. In the end, England made 59 runs in seven overs - which included Ballance reaching his maiden hundred with a six - although there remained an argument that the foot could have been put on the throttle when the lead passed 300.
"If you'd declared at 330-340 on that wicket it would have been a very fair chase," Cook said. "At 100 for 1 at lunch, 320 would have looked a very short total. The four wickets just after lunch cost us without shadow of a doubt and give Sri Lanka credit there. We tried to play positively to give us a chance of declaring that night but they made it difficult for us."
There were also 17 overs lost in the match due to slow over-rates, six of those on the day England were in the field throughout on Saturday, and speaking to Sky Sports Cook admitted that had not been ideal.
But he was delighted with the way his team played throughout the Test, their first outing in the format since the conclusion of the 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Australia. Only five players from Sydney remained, but most of the new or recalled players produced significant roles in the match.
"We've made quite a lot of the running in this Test. To lose the toss, be put in and make 580 you have a great chance," he said. "We were ahead throughout the game so can take a lot from that.
"We scored at a really good rate. If we'd gone at three runs an over we wouldn't have been in that position with a chance to win. Joe Root was outstanding with a double and Gary Ballance showed his class at international level, not many people have seen it and it will be great for his confidence from a tricky position at No. 3. All the new guys came in and made an impact."
It will be the same players travelling up to Headingley after an unchanged squad was confirmed, the playing XI plus Chris Woakes, but it is unlikely that Woakes will push himself into the side. There was a suggestion that Broad may have been suffering a niggle towards the end of the match, when he was replaced by Liam Plunkett for one over, but Cook said it had just been a hunch. It was a hunch that did not quite work.