England 551-6 dec Sri Lanka 192 & 537-9: Flintoff's folly and diabolical fielding let Sri Lanka off hook

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff has produced many heroic performances for England, and he will no doubt continue to do so, but the piece of cricket he was involved in at 4.55pm yesterday afternoon was not one of them. Flintoff's decision to bowl a bouncer at the Sri Lankan tailender, Muttiah Muralitharan, after the umpires had met to discuss whether the light was fit enough for play, was not one of the brightest pieces of cricket Lord's has seen.

The delivery struck Muralitharan a painful blow on the hand and left the umpires with little option but to take the players from the field. The teams returned after a 25-minute break but six overs had been lost, and with them England's last realistic chance of winning the first Test.

Flintoff's error failed to help England's cause but his over-enthusiasm was not the principle reason why his side had to settle for a draw in a match everyone, bar the Sri Lankan team, expected them to comfortably win. England's dreadful catching, along with a magnificent batting display from the Sri Lankans, means that the teams will line up at Edgbaston in nine days' time with all to play for.

England dropped nine catches in the match, six of which were grassed in the second innings. Three of these were clanged yesterday with Alastair Cook missing the most important. Nuwan Kulasekara was on 14 when Cook failed to hold on to a dolly in the gully, and he went on to score a further 50 runs and bat for almost two hours.

England's fielding let them down but enormous credit should be given to Sri Lanka, whose second-innings total of 537 for 9 was a record. After being bowled out for 192 in their first innings and following on 359 runs behind, the tourists batted for 14 and a half hours, during which England sent down 199 overs.

This provided England's three inexperienced bowlers with a tough awakening. The fact that Sri Lanka were able to keep England out shows that Liam Plunkett, Sajid Mahmood and Monty Panesar have some way to go before they reach the heights of those they have replaced, but in the long run they will benefit from the ordeal.

Matthew Hoggard and Flintoff have been through enough bad times to know that nothing can be taken for granted in Test cricket, and Plunkett, Mahmood and Panesar will now be aware of the physical and mental demands in this form of cricket. England's bowling attack will be scrutinised closely before the second Test in Birmingham. Stephen Harmison will no doubt return, but they should all remain involved.

England did not bowl badly. They gave it all they could and kept going to the end, and England would have won had the fielders taken the chances the bowlers created.

Flintoff missed England's first wicket-taking opportunity of the final day when he grassed Chamara Kapugedera at second slip off the bowling of Hoggard in the third over of the day. It was a simple catch but it hit the ground.

Fortunately it did not prove expensive as Flintoff made amends by dismissing Kapugedera with a short ball when he had added five further runs. The catch gave Geraint Jones his fifth catch of the innings.

Tillekaratne Dilshan played several pleasant shots during his 69 before edging a beautiful leg-cutter from Plunkett to Marcus Trescothick who, much to the relief of his teammates, held on to a simple catch at first slip. Sri Lanka were now 421 for 8, which gave them a lead of just 62.

Chaminda Vaas, with a highest Test score of 74, pulled Mahmood for two fours before rain sent the players scurrying off for an early lunch. The England team would still have been confident of finishing the job off quickly but the gritty Sri Lankans had other ideas. Vaas and Kulasekara showed they were not about to be overawed by the situation. Plunkett was driven for four by each batsman before Cook dropped England's eighth catch of the Test. Cook has made a wonderful impression during his brief international career but on this occasion he had an absolute shocker.

The edge, which left the bat at a gentle pace and reached him in the gully at around knee height, was a dolly. Cook is unlikely to receive a simpler chance and, after tossing the ball to a fielder, stood there in shock.

England's bowlers, young and old, continued to run in hard but the all important ninth wicket, the wicket that would bring in Muralitharan, failed to come. Vaas and Kulasekara remained resolute, standing tall and rebuffing anything the fast bowlers hurled at them. They treated a meagre crowd to a few quality shots, too.

Panesar was given a belated bowl at the Nursery End but after three overs of spin Flintoff opted to take the third new ball. It was the first occasion since April 2004 - when Brian Lara struck 400 not out in Antigua - that England had been forced to do this, but the hard, shiny cherry made little difference.

Kulasekara guided Flintoff for four to take Sri Lanka's lead to three figures before driving Mahmood for four, a shot that broke Sri Lanka's record ninth-wicket partnership against England. Panesar was brought back at the Pavilion End but Kulasekara hoicked him twice into the Tavern Stand for six. The second of these took him to a maiden Test 50.

Vaas, a naturally attacking batsman, remained watchful as the partnership passed 100 and then, just when the game appeared dead, Kulasekara hooked Hoggard to Kevin Pietersen at deep square-leg.

Vaas and Muralitharan, after the 25-minute break, continued to defy England's bowlers and Paul Collingwood dropped a sharp catch in the gully. But by then Sri Lanka were all but safe, as they deserved to be.

Scoreboard from Lord's

England won toss

England 551 for 6 dec (K P Pietersen 158, M E Trescothick 106, A N Cook 89, P D Collingwood 57).

Sri Lanka - First Innings 192 (D P M D Jayawardene 61; M J Hoggard 4-27),

Sri Lanka - Second Innings

(Overnight: 381 for 6)

J Mubarak b Hoggard 6

18 min, 14 balls

W U Tharanga c Jones b Panesar 52

163 min, 126 balls, 7 fours

ÝK C Sangakkara c Jones b Panesar 65

226 min, 156 balls, 6 fours

*D P M D Jayawardene c Jones b Flintoff 119

364 min, 220 balls, 12 fours, 1 five

M F Maharoof c Pietersen b Mahmood 59

165 min, 145 balls, 7 fours, 1 six

T T Samaraweera c Jones b Mahmood 6

20 min, 12 balls, 1 four

T M Dilshan c Trescothick b Plunkett 69

191 min, 144 balls, 11 fours

C K Kapugedera c Jones b Flintoff 10

61 min, 44 balls

W P U C J Vaas not out 50

252 min, 188 balls, 7 fours

K M D N Kulasekara c Pietersen b Hoggard 64

189 min, 133 balls, 7 fours, 2 fours

M Muralitharan not out 1

28 min, 16 balls

Extras (b9 lb19 w3 nb5) 36

Total (for 9, 843 min, 199 overs) 537

Fall: 1-10 (Mubarak) 2-119 (Tharanga) 3-178 (Sangakkara) 4-291 (Maharoof) 5-303 (Samaraweera) 6-371 (Jayawardene) 7-405 (Kapugedera) 8-421 (Dilshan) 9-526 (Kulasekara).

Bowling: Hoggard 46-11-110-2 (nb1) (7-3-14-1, 1-0-4-0, 5-1-8-0, 4-0-10-0, 4-0-4-0, 8-0-30-0, 9-3-17-0, 4-2-14-0, 4-2-9-1); Flintoff 51-11-131-2 (w1) (4-1-6-0, 3-0-17-0, 3-0-9-0, 4-1-9-0, 2-0-4-0, 5-1-13-0, 6-1-18-0, 11-4-25-2, 3-1-9-0, 4-0-14-0, 5-2-6-0, 1-0-1-0); Mahmood 35-5-118-2 (w1) (2-0-9-0, 3-0-8-0, 5-1-18-0, 2-0-10-0, 7-0-30-2, 2-0-6-0, 2-0-13-0, 3-1-5-0, 1-0-6-0, 6-2-12-0, 2-1-1-0); Plunkett 31-10-85-1 (nb2) (3-1-12-0, 4-1-16-0, 5-1-13-0, 7-1-28-0, 8-3-14-1, 4-3-2-0); Collingwood 9-2-16-0 (nb2 w1) (5-1-10-0, 1-0-2-0, 2-1-1-0, 1-0-3-0); Panesar 27-10-49-2 (12-3-25-1, 3-2-1-1, 4-1-8-0, 2-0-3-0, 3-3-0-0, 3-1-12-0).

Progress: Fifth day (min 98 overs): 400: 581 min, 137 overs. Rain stopped play 12.40pm. Early lunch taken at 12.50pm 429-8 (Vaas 10, Kulasekara 0) 149 overs. 450: 666 min, 157 overs. New ball taken after 164 overs at 456-8. 500: 757 min, 179.1 overs. BLSP 3.40pm, early tea taken 510-8 (Vaas 34, Kulasekara 55) 181 overs. BLSP 4.55-5.19pm 526-9 (Vaas 41, Muralitharan 0) 193.1 overs. BLSP 5.43pm.

Tharanga's 50: 145 min, 115 balls, 7 fours. Sangakkara's 50: 179 min, 121 balls, 4 fours. Jayawardene's 50: 138 min, 98 balls, 6 fours. 100: 300 min, 191 balls, 11 fours, 1 five. Maharoof's 50: 153 min, 133 balls, 5 fours, 1 six. Dilshan's 50: 136 min, 106 balls, 8 fours. Vaas's 50: 252 min, 187 balls, 7 fours. Kulasekara's 50: 132 min, 92 balls, 6 fours, 1 six.

Match Drawn

Man of the Match: D P M D Jayawardene.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and R E Koertzen (SA).

TV replay umpire: N J Llong.

Match referee: A G Hurst.

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