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Match reports

Sri Lanka v England

At Kandy, December 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 2003

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
At Kandy, December 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 2003. Drawn. Toss: Sri Lanka.
Maybe familiarity breeds contempt, but England's second great escape in consecutive matches somehow failed to capture the imagination in the manner of their magnificent rearguard at Galle. Maybe that is doing a gross disservice to Vaughan, who exuded such an inhumanly calm aura in compiling his first century as England captain that he made it all look too easy. But Sri Lanka themselves added to the anticlimax, with field placings on the final day that were defensive in the extreme and transmitted an air of indifference.
Vaughan later described his match-saving 105, from 448 minutes and 333 balls, as the finest innings of his career. He had gone 15 innings as captain without adding to his tally of nine centuries, but responded to the wagging tongues with an effort that evoked memories of Mike Atherton's legendary performance at Johannesburg in December 1995. England's hopes of victory had ended on the second day of the match, and they were eventually left with four sessions to survive and a nominal target of 368. But Vaughan exuded his trademark cool under fire, and nonchalantly led his side to safety.
In fact, it was all so serene that Sri Lanka's coach, John Dyson, said he was "staggered" England did not push for victory on a fifth-day wicket that had not deteriorated dramatically. But the negative approach - if it could be labelled as such - was merely in keeping with a strangely muted match. The most explosive moments centred around Vaughan's predecessor Hussain, and what he may or may not have said to Muralitharan; the most intriguing episode came five days later, when a stash of banknotes - worth around £7,000 - were found in a hotel room that had earlier been occupied by Atapattu.
Right from the start of the match, a draw had been the upper limit of England's ambitions. Hussain's return from illness, coupled with Collingwood's impressive debut at Galle, meant that six specialist batsmen were shoehorned into the team at the expense of a seam bowler. Neither Hoggard nor Johnson deserved to be singled out, but both were given the heave-ho in favour of the willing understudy Kirtley, who was thrust in ahead of the more mercurial Anderson.
For two sessions, the motley crew made hay. As if on cue, Vaughan lost the toss for the seventh time in eight Tests, but Kirtley buzzed and Flintoff bulldozed with the new ball, and Sri Lanka slid to 206 for six. England did, however, owe their position to several moments of good luck, not least a dreadful mix-up that resulted in Sangakkara's run-out. And in picking up the wickets of Jayasuriya and Samaraweera en route to a five-wicket haul, Giles twice benefited from umpire Harper's generosity, which so incensed the Sri Lankan management that they complained to the ICC.
By the time that letter was sent, however, Sri Lanka were 277 for seven, and the initiative had been stolen from England's tiring attack. A stroke-filled 63 from Dilshan had hinted at the scoring opportunities on offer, but it was a seventh-wicket stand of 64 between Tillekeratne and Vaas that really took the game away from England. When the usually mild-mannered Kirtley snared Vaas in the dying overs of the day, his in-your- face celebration was an indication of England's struggles; it earned him a date with Clive Lloyd, the match referee, as well.
Lloyd was a busy man on the second afternoon, when the match reached its false summit of excitement. A ninth-wicket partnership of 76 had already pushed Sri Lanka's total into the realms of the unreachable, when Muralitharan strolled out to join the unheralded Dinusha Fernando, who was fast approaching his maiden half-century. In what was later assumed to have been a premeditated strike, Hussain was alleged to have sworn at Murali, calling him an "effing cheat and an effing chucker". The TV evidence was inconclusive and, for that reason alone, Hussain escaped without penalty. But the incident soured relations between the teams and reduced Hussain's personal standing in a country that had previously held him in the highest regard. An editorial in one local paper warned him: "Tread lightly, old boy, tread lightly and mind your manners."
In response, the England camp attempted to ridicule Murali for "telling tales out of school", as Thorpe put it. It all added to the tension as they prepared to face him. Although Vaughan and Trescothick launched England's reply with panache, Murali accounted for both before pinning Thorpe with a deliciously disguised doosra that sent tremors through the England dressing-room. He finished with four for 60 from 40 overs, and Sri Lanka had secured a potentially decisive first-innings lead of 88.
With just over two days remaining, Sri Lanka had a window of opportunity, and in Dilshan, they had just the man to jump through it. Dilshan's only previous Test century had come four years earlier, against Zimbabwe, but you would not have known it from the way he bombarded the off-side boundary with furious cuts and free-flowing drives. After the tentative tempo of the first three days, Dilshan's 100 from 129 balls represented a sudden breakout.
Despite Dyson's claims, an English victory was an absurd notion - their highest winning fourth-innings total was a mere 332 for seven, a record that had stood for 75 years. But with Vaughan in such wonderful form, no figure was beyond the bounds of feasibility as far as Tillekeratne was concerned. Even when Hussain fell to the fourth ball of the final morning, he persisted with a solitary slip and five men on the boundary. It was a baffling tactic, one that enabled England to block to their hearts' content.
All the same, it took every shred of England's collective will to see off Murali, who twirled his way through another 56 overs in the second innings for match figures of 96-46-124-8. Though he tired towards the end, his fielders were unstinting in their enthusiasm, not least Sangakkara, who earned himself a ticking-off for excessive appealing, but not before he had successfully completed the stumping of Butcher for the second time in the match - something that had happened only once in a Test since 1956.
Thorpe's second important innings of the match ended unluckily, caught behind off his front pad, and when Vaughan himself fell to the slightest of misjudgments with 25 overs remaining, Sri Lanka's patient approach seemed sure to pay off. But Batty and Read manned the barriers for the final hour of England's resistance, aided to the bitter end by Tillekeratne's peculiar reticence.
Man of the Match: M. P. Vaughan.
Close of play: First day, Sri Lanka 277-7 (Tillekeratne 45, Dharmasena 1); Second day, England 163-4 (Thorpe 20, Collingwood 19); Third day, Sri Lanka 39-1 (Jayasuriya 25, Sangakkara 1); Fourth day, England 89-2 (Vaughan 50, Hussain 17).