England v Sri Lanka: Sangakkara the star but hosts fight back

England v Sri Lanka: Harry Reardon Kumar Sangakkara hits 147 as Sri Lanka close day three on 415-7

Harry Reardon
By Harry Reardon

Kumar Sangakkara’s maiden Test century at Lord’s put Sri Lanka well in the game on the third day of the first Test, before a late fightback from England’s bowlers saw the hosts again take control.

At times today, with the visitors on 277-2 and then 385-4 facing 575-9 declared, the narrative of this game seemed complete. The early signs had been particularly unpromising, with a 7-2 field to James Anderson and balls dying on the slips and the keeper under sullen skies, but then Anderson got some spice from the surface with one which followed Kaushal Silva down the slope.

The resultant catch, well claimed off a periscoped bat by Matt Prior behind the stumps, saw ‘ct Prior b Anderson’ become England’s largest wicket-taking combination in history with 61 scalps; but unfortunately for the hosts, Silva’s dismissal merely saw the eighth highest run scorer in Test history joined by the sixth.

And so everyone settled in for the long haul, and for two-and-a-half hours, it looked pretty much like business as usual for Sri Lanka’s grand old pair. Mahela Jayawardene, however, never looked comfortable enough for the visitors to entertain hopes of an emulation of the 624 which he and Sangakkara put on against South Africa in July 2006, as Liam Plunkett in particular, brought back into the England team as an ‘enforcer’, started to get his radar right in the over before lunch, and to rough him up.

Saturday provided the clearest example yet, though, of exactly how much England will miss Graeme Swann. Moeen Ali’s arrival into the attack was the signal for a release of the handbrake and of the tension, with seven runs coming off his first over and Sangakkara skipping down the pitch to three of the first four balls of his second. Jayawardene, meanwhile, took a liking to the leg side hoick.

At the other end, Sangakkara continued serene.

He has perhaps never quite achieved the wider plaudits of a Tendulkar, a Lara or even a Dravid, but he has a higher Test average than all of them – the sixth highest of any man with more than twenty appearances, and (with apologies to the Don for the slight arbitrariness of the stat) the highest in history amongst those to have played 55 or more Tests.

For 258 balls and nearly seven and a half hours, he looked entirely unflustered, and 12 years after his first appearance at Lord’s, will finally see his name etched on the famous honours board. His celebrations – and those of Jayawardene, running the length of the pitch and leaping on his back – showed just how much that means.

At the other end, meanwhile, Jayawardene eventually missed a straight ball from Stuart Broad and tossed a futile review to the winds; Lahiru Thirimanne, perhaps conscious of the fact that James Anderson appears to have him on a string, duly flipped an innocuous ball from the Lancastrian to Sam Robson at short midwicket.

Angelo Mathews – averaging over 80 with the bat as captain – came in and re-established order, but then just as heads started to nod in the late afternoon sun, Sangakkara threw the bat at one which turned and leapt from Moeen, and could only help it into the gloves of Prior.

An excellent reaction catch from Ian Bell off Prasanna Jayawardene earned Plunkett his first Test wicket for seven years, and new man Nuwan Kulasekara, who looked in all kinds of bother, should have given him his second but Anderson could not lay a hand on a spliced pull shot.

Kulasekara, though, edged a fine ball from Chris Jordan to the keeper a few minutes later, and as the day drew to a close, England could justifiably say that they were in amongst the rabbits.

There are, however, only two days remaining. While England’s late afternoon efforts proved that Sangakkara’s 147 had not quite broken them, it will require maximum effort from the bowlers to clear up the tail tomorrow morning and some meaningful deterioration in the pitch; otherwise, Sri Lanka may yet be able to pocket a draw.

Thought for the day

There is much, of course, to be said for demanding invention, for making captains and bowlers work for their wickets at this level. But when it starts, as it did at times today, to hint at simply shuffling between the standard unorthodoxies – wide outside off stump, brutish and short, shut your eyes and pray for the new ball – there must be an argument that matters have gone too far. The ECB cannot be blamed for trying to make its Test matches last the distance – they remain a (if not the) major source of income into the game – but its pitches should always allow a sense of a balance between bat and ball. For most of the first three days here, that has been lacking.

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