England 258-5 v Sri Lanka: England frustrated by Harper as hosts get rub of the green

Another day of Test cricket, another controversial decision, or two moments that may have influenced the result of one Test and could yet affect the outcome of another. On the final day of the first Test in Kandy Ryan Sidebottom was given out lbw to Muttiah Muralitharan as the light faded and England bravely attempted to avoid defeat. Television replays proved it to be the wrong decision the ball had hit his bat before touching pad and it is debateable whether it cost England the match.

Yesterday it was the turn of Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook to quizzically make their way back to the England dressing-room. On a different day both would have survived and England would have moved on into a strong position. As it is neither lasted a final session that yielded four wickets for the Sri Lankans. And when bad light brought a premature end to play the match was delicately poised with England on 258 for 5.

Pietersen was the first England player to see Daryl Harper raise his finger, when the umpire deemed a juggling catch had been successfully taken in the slip cordon. Chamara Silva, fielding at second slip, dived low and to his left as Pietersen edged a loose drive at a wideish delivery from Chaminda Vaas. Silva never had the ball under complete control and it popped up at the exact moment his left hand touched the ground. The 27-year-old then juggled twice with the ball before Kumar Sangakkara swooped at first slip to scoop it up.

There was no doubt about the validity of Sangakkara's catch or what happened to the ball after it had popped up, but it was extremely difficult to tell whether the ball had touched the ground as Silva's hand came down. Television replays suggested that the ball had made contact with turf but it is an unreliable guide. Two-dimensional images of a three-dimensional act are often inconclusive because there is no depth to the picture and the downward view given by cameras positioned on a gantry makes it appear as though the ball has touched the ground when it actually hasn't.

The nature of the catch meant that the umpires could have referred the decision to the third official, who could then have used technology, but they are discouraged from doing this because most of these judgements result in a "not out" verdict. Umpires are encouraged to make decisions out in the middle and on this occasion they probably made the correct one. Had Silva's fingers not been under the ball he would have been unable to flick it up, and if this was the case, as it appeared to be, the ball is unlikely to have made contact with the ground.

A more worrying sight was that of Pietersen reacting to the disapproving noises from the English fans in the crowd, who had seen a replay of the incident, and returning to challenge the decision. It is not the first time this has happened to Pietersen or England. Last summer in the Test against India at Lord's Pietersen was given out caught behind when the ball had clearly not carried to the wicketkeeper, before being waved back by team-mates. On seeing this he stopped, the umpires had second thoughts, called for the third umpire, and Pietersen returned. The trend cannot continue. No matter whether the umpire is right or wrong the player must go, otherwise there will be anarchy.

Cook fell 94 minutes later against the second new ball when a full inswinger from Lasith Malinga hit him on the right boot and the same umpire gave him out lbw. Replays showed that the ball pitched in line with leg stump but the low slingy action of the bowler and the swing of the ball suggested that it would have slipped down the leg side.

The decision ended a dogged but extremely valuable innings of 81 from Cook, who was made to work hard for every run by accurate Sri Lankan bowling and excellent field setting. Cook was immediately followed back to the dressing-room by Ravi Bopara who was bowled first ball by a superb away-swinging yorker from Malinga. The hat-trick ball was fired wide down the leg-side but the three wickets spoilt a promising day for England.

The tourists made bold statements from the moment they arrived at the ground, selecting Stephen Harmison and Stuart Broad ahead of James Anderson and the injured Matthew Hoggard. Vaughan then chose to bat at a venue that traditionally gives the faster bowlers assistance in the opening session. The ball did swing and seam but Vaughan and Cook handled it with ease.

Vaughan was in terrific form during his two-and-three-quarter-hour innings, striking the ball sweetly to the boundary on both sides of the pitch. The ease with which the pair played the seamers resulted in Muralitharan bowling the 12th over of the innings, but even his introduction caused few alarms. Cook pulled Murali twice to the boundary for four and shortly after lunch an England opening partnership reached 100 for the first time in 15 Tests.

Vaughan was on course for an 18th Test hundred when, on 87, he turned a ball from Murali off his legs. The ball hit the short-leg fielder, Jehan Mubarak, in the midriff and somehow he managed to trap it between his legs as he fell to the ground. The sight horrified Vaughan but he had to go.

Ian Bell, England's best batsman in Kandy, fell in more conventional style when he edged a turning delivery from Murali on to his pad and was athletically caught by Mubarak at short-leg. By this time England's innings had lost momentum; the 35 runs Cook and Bell added had taken 20 overs. Cook passed 50 for just the second time in 11 innings and then the controversy began.

There are plenty of ideas of how cricket can reduce the number of umpiring mistakes but as of yet, no solutions. Technology will improve and errors will continue to occur but do we want the game to become like a surgical operation where every appeal is sent back to a studio to be analysed by a panel of judges? Cricket will be poorer if it does. Accept the errors and get on with the game.

Scoreboard from Colombo

First day: England won the toss and elected to bat

England First Innings

A N Cook lbw b Malinga 81

344 min, 234 balls, 8 fours

*M P Vaughan c Mubarak b Muralitharan 87

161 min, 139 balls, 12 fours

I R Bell c Mubarak b Muralitharan 15

81 min, 62 balls, 1 four

K P Pietersen c Sangakkara b Vaas 1

6 min, 5 balls

P D Collingwood not out 49

116 min, 76 balls, 7 fours

R S Bopara b Malinga 0

1 min, 1 ball

+M J Prior not out 10

20 min, 12 balls, 1 four

Extras (b8, nb7) 15

Total (5 wkts, 367 min, 87 overs) 258

Fall: 1-133 (Vaughan), 2-168 (Bell), 3-171 (Pietersen), 4-237 (Cook), 5-237 (Bopara).

To bat: R J Sidebottom, S J Harmison, S C J Broad, M S Panesar.

Bowling: Vaas 23-5-49-1; Malinga 14-1-57-2; Fernando 16-2-59-0; Muralitharan 34-5-85-2.

Progress: First day: 50: 75 mins, 18 overs. Lunch: 97-0 (Cook 21, Vaughan 75) 29 overs. 100: 130 mins, 32 overs. 150: 206 mins, 49.4 overs. Tea: 167-1 (Cook 54, Bell 15) 58 overs. 200: 293 mins, 70.4 overs. New ball: taken after 80 overs at 223-3. 250: 358 mins, 84.4 overs. Bad light stopped play: 5.09pm.

Cook's 50: 213 mins, 139 balls, 6 fours. Vaughan 50: 78 mins, 75 balls, 6 fours, 1 five.

Sri Lanka: M G Vandort, W U Tharanga, K C Sangakkara, *D P M D Jayawardene, L P C Silva, J Mubarak, +H A P W Jayawardene, W P U C J Vaas, C R D Fernando, S L Malinga, M Muralitharan.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and D J Harper (Aus)

TV replay umpire: M G Silva

Match referee: J J Crowe.