Captain intent on laying firm foundation

First it was Kumar, then came Mahela. Whoever reckoned Sri Lanka are a one-man team and the proposition is aired more often than Bing Crosby's greatest hit in December is dangerously misguided. Muttiah Muralitharan prospers not only because he is a great bowler but also because he is working behind large totals.

Those runs are in increasingly plentiful supply from two quarters. Kumar Sangakkara made 192 in the first Test against England in Kandy and erected the platform for victory. Here in Colombo yesterday Mahela Jayawardene performed a similar function and, although the bricks were put in place at a slightly slower rate, the effect of his adding 124 runs while batting all day presented a similarly worrying edifice for the tourists.

Jayawardene eschewed either risk or flamboyance. In his mind, Sangakkara having gone cheaply the night before, all that mattered was batting England out of the match. It was a magisterial exhibition of leading from the front.

For much of the first part of a Test career that began 10 years ago Jayawardene was maddeningly unpredictable. It was not that he often sold his wicket cheaply, but that he seemed unaware of its value. The elevation to the Sri Lankan captaincy changed him: in the 149 innings before it his average was 43.85; in the 29 since, excluding yesterday, it is 55.61.

In scoring his seventh hundred as captain (or rather crafting it painstakingly from a slow pitch refusing to grant favours to anybody lightly) he became Sri Lanka's highest runs scorer in Tests. He overtook Sanath Jayasuriya when he reached 111.

"Kumar and I know we need to take a lot of responsibility in this team because it's a time when we have a couple of youngsters," he said. "We've worked really hard to make sure we carry the team through this period. My problem is that I haven't been consistent. Batting with Kumar has helped. We complement each other, try and make big scores and have got into that habit."

When Jayawardene and Sangakkara speak it is as if they are intent on bequeathing a legacy to their team. They are not here today, gone tomorrow merchants. When they depart they want to have ensured that although their team still have places to go, they will be capable of getting there.

Not much was pretty about Jayawardene's innings yesterday. If it was fairly dull to watch at times, that was merely indicative of how far Test cricket has come in 15 years and how spoilt we all are. It no doubt helped that the SSC is his home ground every bit as much as Kandy is home to Sangakkara.

Jayawardene broke another Test record. He has now scored more runs at one ground (2,034 by close yesterday) than any other batsman, having overtaken the 2,015 Graham Gooch made at Lord's. He looked as though he was on speaking terms with every blade of grass.

What may really hurt an England side who never ceased trying is the nagging thought that they got it wrong at the toss by batting. "We have made the same mistake a couple of times as well and we had to bat really well in the second innings to get back into the match," said Jayawardene, almost teasingly.

England made more than Jayawardene expected but it looked far from enough as his occupation continued. Their bowlers, Monty Panesar apart, could hardly be faulted, but their reward was two wickets. "It was a tough day," said the England coach, Peter Moores. It promised to get tougher.

Stephen Brenkley and Angus Fraser discuss today's play at independent.co.uk/thetest

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