Sri Lanka show guts and guile... too late to save the series

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The Independent Online

The first Test series of the summer was decided by two hours of Sri Lankan batting madness in Cardiff. As England left the country's newest Test ground last night, they were left to reflect that India might not be so obliging in the second.

If Sri Lanka had batted in the opening match with a smidgeon of the guts, guile and grace they demonstrated yesterday on the final day of the third, it all would have ended in a 0-0 draw. As it is, having taken the lead by bowling out their opponents in 23.4 overs, England were destined to win the rubber.

Although they have been the better team, bad weather played an influential role in all three matches. The wreckage of the first two days at the Rose Bowl and the loss of 184 overs in the match always made another draw, following a similar outcome at Lord's, the likely result. But Sri Lanka batted with huge aplomb to ensure that another match did not slip away. The poor record in England of Kumar Sangakkara has long been inexplicable, but he rectified it in possibly his last Test innings on these shores with a handsome innings.

His 119 from 249 balls contained some well-appointed cover and straight driving but it was perhaps more memorable for his determined leaving of the ball outside off stump.

Andrew Strauss, England's captain, said: "We got ourselves into a position to go on and win. Sri Lanka batted well but we were a little bit frustrated."

There was one other unwanted concern for England. Stuart Broad, who is due to lead England in his first match as the new Twenty20 captain in Bristol on Saturday, has a bruised left heel.

The day dawned dry, if not bright, and England were still 81 ahead and needed seven more wickets. By the time the rain eventually arrived during the tea interval only two more wickets had fallen and the tourists were 141 ahead. Rangana Herath, the nightwatchman, had played his part to perfection and Thilan Samaraweera, another who has not found English conditions to his liking, looked as though he would never be dismissed again.

The fact that the weather so distorted the course of the match should not preclude questions about the balance of England's team. In the second innings at Lord's they took three Sri Lankan wickets in 43 overs; at the Rose Bowl they managed five in 104 on a surface that was much more encouraging. Perhaps a fifth bowler would not have made the difference but in the second half of this summer England will come up against India, whose batting order reads like a list of legends. To dismiss that lot twice, England will need to be at their peak.

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