England spent most of a soporific third day at the second Test yesterday watching the equivalent of a Little and Large pre-Christmas special but on this occasion, like a few others, there was precious little to laugh about. On a hot, sultry morning, and with a pivotal Test to be grasped, Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's diminutive captain, and Michael Vandort, the 6ft 4in opener, ground England's bowlers into the Colombo dirt, adding 227 for the third wicket.
The dismissal of Vandort for a vigilant 138 lifted England's spirits, but it was short-lived as Jayawardene, who batted through the entire day for a quite brilliant unbeaten 167, broke several records while taking his side to 379 for 4. The total gave Sri Lanka a first-innings lead of 28 and the chance to wrap up the three-Test series here, on a pitch that is offering spinners ever more assistance.
England worked hard in the field and it would be slightly unfair to be too critical of the bowlers, with the exception of Monty Panesar, who had another disappointing day. Ryan Sidebottom plugged away outside off stump, Stuart Broad continued to show promise and Stephen Harmison improved as the innings wore on, gaining reward for his effort just before the close when Chamara Silva gloved a snorter to Ravi Bopara, fielding in the gully.
On another day each could have picked up a wicket or two more. Several genuine edges failed to carry to fielders in the slip cordon and Panesar could have had Jayawardene out on 130, when a reverse-sweep appeared to feather his glove and lob up to Alastair Cook at short leg. The umpire Aleem Dar thought otherwise.
But no bowler was really a match for Jayawardene, who was majestic, overtaking the recently retired Sanath Jayasuriya, with 6,973 runs, to become the highest run-scorer in the history of Sri Lankan cricket. His love of batting at the Sinhalese Sports Club, a venue where he has now scored eight centuries, including a mammoth 374 against South Africa in 2006, took him to another record. By the end of the day Jayawardene's tally of runs here had reached 2,034, a total that means he has now scored more runs at a single ground than any other batsman. Graham Gooch, with 2,015 runs at Lord's, was the previous record holder.
Jayawardene is a batsman who has to be dismissed early, before he gets his eye in. While acclimatising he is prone to push at and edge good-length balls just outside off stump. But once he is set, and his judgement of what to play at and what to leave is secure, he is a difficult player to dismiss. Like all top players he just loves to bat and bat and bat, and he will have his eye on 250-plus today.
If criticism can be aimed at England's seamers it was in the opening few overs of the day, when Sidebottom and Harmison failed to make Jayawardene and Vandort play as many balls as they should. The sighters allowed the pair to reacquaint themselves with the benign piece of turf and lay the foundations for a potentially huge total.
Jayawardene is a fine player of fast bowling, but it is against spin that he really excels. Few batsmen possess touch and ability to pick length. The ability to judge where the ball will pitch allows him to get into position to play a shot early, and touch permits him to place the ball into gaps. There were stages when he appeared to be playing around with Michael Vaughan and Panesar, placing the ball in the spot from which where they had just moved a fielder.
The ease with which the Sri Lankans scored runs off Panesar caused Vaughan plenty of problems. It meant that he had to call on his faster bowlers in this heat and humidity fast bowlers need a lengthy rest after a five- or six-over spell and occasional bowlers more often than he would have liked.
If spinners are not taking wickets in Sri Lanka, they have to offer control. On two tours here Ashley Giles, England's much maligned former spinner, took 25 wickets in six Tests and conceded just 2.6 runs per over. Panesar wickets are currently costing him 48 runs each and he is yielding 3.2 runs per over.
Surprisingly, it was the bowling of Kevin Pietersen that troubled Sri Lanka's batsmen most. Pietersen is a tall man with a high action and he has so far got the ball to spin and bounce more than any other slow bowler in the Test. England will be hoping that it was the uniqueness of Pietersen that caused this to happen and that it is not a sign of things to come.
Pietersen spun the ball sharply past the edge of Vandort's bat several times but, as with occasional bowlers, there was also the odd bad ball that was smacked to the boundary. Vandort's fourth Test century and his second against England was brought up when he cut Pietersen for two and he appeared set for a career-best score until Sidebottom trapped him plumb in front with the second new ball.
Silva put on 128 with his captain before Harmison's bounce left him helpless, but by then Sri Lanka were 26 runs ahead. The wicket gave Harmison huge joy, but he will need to produce a few deliveries of similar spite this morning if England are to maintain any hope of winning the Test and levelling the series.
Shot of the day
Getting forward to Stephen Harmison is one of the hardest tasks but Mahela Jayawardene is in magnificent form. In the first over after lunch he got his left foot down the pitch and drove Harmison beautifully through mid-on for four.
Ball of the day
Harmison's reaction to dismissing Chamara Silva suggested few wickets have meant more to him. After 26 overs of hard work he pitched short the ball was heading for Silva's nose until his glove thumped it to gully.
On the opening day a streaker ran on to the pitch. Yesterday we heard that at the police station he was told to strip and was then locked in a cell overnight, naked. Hopefully, that will put an end to these idiots acting in such a way.
Scoreboard from Colombo
Third day of five; England won toss
England First innings 351 (M Muralitharan 5-116).
Sri Lanka First innings (Overnight: 105 for 2)
M G Vandort lbw b Sidebottom 138
350 min, 259 balls, 18 fours, 1 six
*D P M D Jayawardene not out 167
503 min, 367 balls, 13 fours, 1 six
L P C Silva c Bopara b Harmison 49
180 min, 106 balls, 3 fours
J Mubarak not out 2
13 min, 5 balls
Extras (b5 lb6 w1) 12
Total (for 4, 546 min, 128 overs) 379
Fall (cont): 3-249 (Vandort),4-377 (Silva).
To bat: †H A P W Jayawardene, W P U C J Vaas, C R D Fernando, S L Malinga, M Muralitharan.
Bowling: Sidebottom 25-3-72-3 (w1) (8-0-27-2, 3-1-8-0, 3-0-17-0, 3-0-6-0, 5-1-12-1, 2-1-1-0, 1-0-1-0); Broad 25-4-63-0 (5-1-6-0, 6-2-13-0, 1-0-6-0, 5-0-15-0, 3-0-9-0, 2-0-6-0, 3-1-8-0); Harmison 28-8-67-1 (5-2-10-0, 10-3-22-0, 4-1-6-0, 1-1-0-0, 6-1-25-0, 2-0-4-1); Panesar 32-4-111-0 (5-0-22-0, 1-0-6-0, 7-0-30-0, 3-0-18-0, 14-3-34-0, 2-1-1-0); Pietersen 12-0-43-0 (10-0-35-0, 2-0-8-0); Collingwood 1-1-0-0; Bopara 5-2-12-0.
Progress: Second day: Tea: 25-2 (Vandort 10, D P M D Jayawardene 3) 11 overs. 50: 122 min, 22 overs. 100: 171 min, 37.1 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.02pm. Close 105-2 (Vandort 50, D P M D Jayawardene 43) 38 overs. Third day: 150: 226 min, 49.2 overs. 200: 294 min, 65.4 overs. Lunch: 200-2 (Vandort 106, DPMD Jayawardene 82) 66 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 248-2. 250: 358 min, 81.3 overs. Tea: 282-3 (DPMD Jayawardene 120, Silva 9) 94 overs. 300: 428 min, 97.4 overs. 350 in 490 min, 114.2 overs.
Vandort's 50: 171 min, 91 balls, 5 fours. 100: 279 min, 180 balls, 15 fours. D P M D Jayawardene's 50: 165 min, 125 balls, 6 fours. 100: 324 min, 203 balls, 9 fours. 150: 444 min, 309 balls, 12 fours, 1 six.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and D J Harper (Aus).
TV replay umpire: M G Silva.
Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).