The cricket in this series has been ponderous at times, but seldom short of controversy. Even before Nasser Hussain livened things up by allegedly telling Muttiah Muralitharan what he thought of him, the umpiring had been poor, and there was heated debate about bowlers' actions.
Until Tillekeratne Dilshan strode purposefully to the crease yesterday, one thing lacking was an innings of substance and class. There are 13 batsmen with Test hundreds playing here, but it is a 27-year-old who had not played a Test for almost three years who has played the most significant innings.
Dilshan's dazzling century came off just 127 balls and was his second in Test cricket. It contained a glorious array of strokes that sent the ball scurrying to all corners of this delightful ground. Mahele Jayawardene helped him along, and their fourth-wicket partnership of 153 settled Sri Lankan nerves following the loss of two early wickets.
England were left needing an innings of similar stature from at least two of their remaining batsmen to leave Kandy with anything but a defeat. Fading light once again helped them, but Michael Vaughan's side require 279 more runs for victory.
A slightly more realistic proposal is that they bat out the remaining six-and-a-half hours. In Vaughan, Hussain and Graham Thorpe, England have three players who can bat for long periods, but it would be a greater achievement than Galle to escape.
In the 36 overs they faced yesterday England lost Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher, and both Vaughan and Hussain were fortunate to survive good shouts for lbw before they had scored.
It was predictable that the wickets to fall were shared between Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, Sri Lanka's two outstanding bowlers. Trescothick was the first to go in the 11th over when he slashed at a widish ball from Vaas. The edge flew to the left of Jayawardene - Sri Lanka's only slip - who took a superb diving catch.
Opinions were divided on Butcher's demise, but there have been few matches where a batsman has been out stumped twice. In the first innings the Surrey opener was lured down the wicket by Kumar Dharmasena, but this time his desire to get forward caused him to overbalance.
Butcher's left foot never left the ground, but his huge stride forward caused him to balance on the side of his foot rather than the sole, which meant his boot was on, rather than behind, the crease.
Kumar Sangakkara whipped the bails off and the third umpire, Peter Manuel, was called upon. Butcher's angry walk off suggested he did not agree with the decision, but this was one occasion when the umpiring proved correct. It is the fifth time Butcher has been stumped, and only four England players - Wally Hammond, Godfrey Evans, Frank Woolley and Tom Hayward - have fallen that way more often.
Hussain's arrival inevitably caused the noise around the bat to increase. As he took guard, Sangakkara, a noted chatterbox, sang the old Everly Brothers song "Bye-bye love, bye-bye happiness, hello loneliness, I think I'm going to cry," to let him know he had no mates out there. Racial, personal and premeditated sledging have no part in the game, but there is no harm in light-hearted banter like this. Even Hussain laughed about it back at the team hotel.
One of the main reasons for England finding themselves in an almost identical situation to the First Test is the side they selected. On several occasions here Vaughan has desperately needed a third fast- bowler, but has had to turn to the medium pace of Paul Collingwood or a spinner.
Yesterday morning was typical. England took two early wickets and had their opponents in trouble on 53 for 3. Sri Lanka's batting has looked jittery under pressure, and with a lead of only 141 England had an outside chance of bowling them out for 150. James Kirtley and Andrew Flintoff gave it all they had, but once they were spent Dilshan and Jayawardene were able to milk Ashley Giles and Gareth Batty.
Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, admitted his side would take encouragement from their rearguard performance in Galle but refused to accept that he and his fellow selectors had made a mistake.
"I don't think we needed an extra seamer," he said. "The third seamer would have found the wicket flat and he would have only bowled a couple of overs before the ball was thrown to a spinner. It is always easy for someone to say, 'I told you so'. We made the decision, and if our seamers had bowled better at their tail-enders, who knows what could have happened?"
Sri Lanka won toss
Sri Lanka - First Innings 382 (T M Dilshan 63, K A D M Fernando 51*; A F Giles 5-116)
England -First Innings 294 (G P Thorpe 57; M Muralitharan 4-60, W P U J C Vaas 4-77)
Sri Lanka- Second Innings (Overnight: 39-1)
S T Jayasuriya b Kirtley 27
K T Sangakkara c Collingwood b Giles 10
D P M D Jayawardene b Flintoff 52
T M Dilshan st Read b Batty 100
H P Tillekeretane c Thorpe b Giles 20
T T Samaraweera not out 23
W P U J C Vaas c Vaughan b Kirtley 20
H D P K Dharmasena not out 7
Extras (lb6, w1, nb5) 12
Total (for 7 dec, 71 overs, 327 min) 279
Fall (contd): 2-41 (Jayasuriya), 3-53 (Sangakkara), 4-206 (Dilshan), 5-212 (Jayawardene), 6-243 (Tillekeratne), 7-272 (Vaas)
Did not bat: K A D M Fernando, M Muralitharan
Bowling: Kirtley 17-4-62-2 (nb1) (7-2-15-0, 4-2-11-1, 3-0-15-0, 3-0-21-1), Flintoff 15-3-40-1 (nb3,w1) (5-1-11-0, 2-0-3-0, 3-1-12-0, 1-0-7-0, 3-1-4-1, 1-0-3-0), Giles 22-3-101-3 (nb1) (9-2-37-2, 3-1-5-0, 7-0-36-0, 3-0-23-1), Batty 11-1-47-1 (1-1-0-0, 6-0-23-0, 4-0-24-1), Vaughan 3-0-11-0, Collingwood 3-0-12-0 (one spell each).
England - Second Innings
M E Trescothick c Jayawardene b Vaas 14
M P Vaughan not out 50
M A Butcher st Sangakkara b Muralitharan 6
N Hussain not out 17
Extras (b2) 2
Total (for 2, 36 overs 142 min) 89
Fall: 1-24 (Trescothick), 2-50 (Butcher)
To bat: G P Thorpe, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, A F Giles, C M W Read, G J Batty, R J Kirtley.
Bowling: Vaas 11-3-25-1 (8-1-21-1, 3-2-4-0), Fernando 6-1-15-0, Dharmasena 8-1-27-0 (one spell each), Muralitharan 10-3-19-1 (6-1-14-1, 4-2-5-0), Jayasuriya 1-0-1-0.
Umpires: Aleem Dar and D J Harper. TV replay umpire: P T Manuel. Referee: C H Lloyd.Reuse content