For a large part of the final day, there was nothing to this game. England’s fourth afternoon collapse was a rapidly fading bump in the road that the pitch seemed to have become, and one started to get the sense that the captains might as well have shaken hands at lunch so that they could get an early start out on the golf course in the afternoon.
There had been an early flicker of hope for the hosts as Dimuth Karunaratne nibbled a lifter from Broad to Sam Robson at short leg, but Kaushal Silva had settled in for his second 50 of the match.
And when he departed, strangled down the leg side off Chris Jordan to leave his team 123-2 with nearly half the day’s overs gone, it surely only signalled one great last stand from Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.
And for 36 runs and 12-and-a-half overs, that seemed pretty much that, as Sangakkara, so long deprived of a Lord’s Test century, eased his way towards what would have been his second of the match, and a third in three innings at headquarters following his 112 in the fourth one day international.
Minds, and increasingly spectators, started to drift towards Friday’s second Test at Headingley. But then Jayawardene fell to a nibble outside off stump – dismissal number 62 for ‘ct Prior b Anderson’ – and ten runs later, Sangakkara became the latest victim of this match’s fashion (maybe a result of both techniques and concentration being affected by the famous slope) for an inside edge onto the stumps.
One brought two, Lahiru Thirimanne lasting about as long as he usually does against James Anderson before edging to Jordan at second slip, and England could start to entertain serious thoughts of victory.
Angelo Mathews, though, has been particularly impressive in this game, and in company with the gutsy Prasanna Jayawardene – batting with a finger injury which has since ruled him out of contention for the second Test – the final hour came with five wickets still required.
With the final delivery of the 79th over, and with all hope seemingly pinned in desperation on ten overs with the new ball, Jordan found a way through Jayawardene, sent packing after a review. Kulasekara followed in the 84th, another lbw dismissal to one which nipped back off the seam, and when redoubtable skipper Mathews sent a regulation edge to his opposite number off the masterful Anderson, England had three overs to take two tail end wickets.
Three became two became one. Then, from the first ball of the final over, echoes of Edgbaston 2005, as Rangana Herath gloved a short ball from Broad to Prior and, like Michael Kasprowicz then, was given out. Unlike Kasprowicz, Herath could have called for a review. Both, with the offending gloves free of the bat handle, would have been reprieved.
Four balls later, the other side of DRS, as off the penultimate delivery of the match, a full tracker from Broad, thundered into number 11 Nuwan Pradeep’s pad and umpire Paul Reiffel raised his finger. While all around was pandemonium, however, Pradeep and the third umpire, Steve Davis, kept their cool. The review call was instant, the inside edge unmistakeable. Even then it was not quite over, with one final nick falling agonisingly short of Jordan at slip; and then suddenly, it was – a draw which had lurched in the space of three hours from apparently inevitable to a final five balls where it had almost seemed impossible.
There are always calls, after a captain has declared the third innings of a match and then failed to bowl his opposition out, that an earlier, “more aggressive” declaration (normally described as “what the Australians would have done”) would have led to victory. Leaving aside the inherent nonsensity of the counterfactual (would Sri Lanka have batted in the same manner had they faced a different target? Would the bowling have been the same? Would the field settings have been different?) and the entirely different conclusions which would have been drawn had, for example, the final ball of the match carried six inches further, such a view is unhelpfully reductive. For one, this was Gary Ballance’s second Test match. For Joe Root, meanwhile, it was the sixteenth; after his struggles in Australia, though, his role, and indeed his place in the team, were far from certain. Ballance’s maiden hundred, and Root’s first double ton, will give them the confidence and, injury permitting, the runs in the side which could enable them to blossom. Alastair Cook’s decision to allow both to reach those milestones in this game may have affected his side’s chance of victory. Perhaps, though, it has also gone some way to securing their, and England’s, future.
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