England found wanting on the day of attrition

Tourists raise the temperature, the hosts' middle-order flounder and the series is in the balance
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The Independent Online

As the sun beat down from a largely cloudless sky yesterday it was possible to become nostalgic. This was cricket from a bygone age. Things were different then.

England were up against it from the start of the day to its end, and not only that. In trying determinedly to stay in touch with Sri Lanka, they had to eke out runs, as if each one was being hewed from some unforgiving rockface, instead of a pretty amenable, flat if slow surface.

In the first session 86 runs were scored from 27 overs, in the second a mere 52 from 35, while in the third, during which the home side's first innings was put out of its prolonged misery, there were 83 from 25. By the time Sri Lanka had extended their lead to 47, the match was still awaiting its first individual half-century. It was also slipping away from England and a drawn series, beyond contemplation a month ago, looks eminently possible.

Paul Collingwood is so far the game's highest scorer with 48, an innings that defined both his grit and lack of flamboyance. He was playing for his team as much as for himself, and in the context it was probably worth twice as many. Unfortunately, when the selectors come to make their judgement sometime later this summer, he will still have 48 against his name, not 96.

Trent Bridge was permanently perky in all its recently acquired finery but, that apart, many of those watching must at the least have wondered if they had been waylaid by the Tardis and transported to a Test match in a parallel universe. This is not the way it is meant to be either in international cricket in general or in this series in particular. Four runs an over is de rigueur, old boy, and Sri Lanka were there to be dispatched.

Indeed, when the tourists were 139 for 8 the previous day it was presumed that they would at last go quietly - as they had been supposed to do from day one of proceedings - but they have now treated presumption contemptuously in all three matches of the series.

How England have come to miss Michael Vaughan. Still their captain in name, they need him in body. It is nobody's fault and it is difficult to put a finger on it - and you are never so good as when you are out of the side - but they need his steel and instinct as much as they need the heroic Andrew Flintoff to be unfettered by the demands of leadership.

England were forced to be attritional. They had lost two wickets and much of their room for manoeuvre on the first night. The feeling persisted that if they could survive the first hour a handsome first-innings lead was still probable.

But it had gone as wrong as could be by lunch with the loss of three more wickets, exposing the long tail. When Alastair Cook was bowled by Lasith Malinga off an inside edge, Kevin Pietersen flexed his shoulders. He might play the nice, unassuming doctor part pretty well, as he did in playing himself in during the first hour, but the Incredible Hulk is never far away.

Pietersen has stipulated with word and deed that he is not in business to let bowlers dominate, and his hoisted six over mid-wicket off Muttiah Muralitharan had expectation surging through the full house.

Here, it seemed, was Pieter-sen's fourth hundred in four consecutive innings on home soil, a record unmatched by any England batsman. Hundreds, however, are not to be scored on demand even by a man as assiduous and ambitious as Pietersen, and not least against a bowler as prodigious as Murali. Two balls after the six, the batsman attempted to repeat the feat, but the bowler deceived him by pushing it through a shade quicker. The shot was therefore marginally misjudged and ended up in the hands of short fine-leg.

Flintoff was not undone by such a smart piece of bowling. He was still probably making up his mind whether to hit the longish hop from Sanath Jayasuriya for four or 12 when he sliced it to first slip, where Mahela Jayawardene took the second of his three catches in the innings. Flintoff was dumbfounded, the crowd were stunned.

So Collingwood and Geraint Jones had to try to pull England back into the contest. Their every move to every ball was doubtless informed by the thought of Murali in the fourth innings. Murali bowled many top-spinners yesterday; he might have more turn to work with tomorrow.

Collingwood nudged and pushed and shoved and occasionally became more expansive with a nurdle. Jones was never quite so contained, and although he looked more settled than of late there was always the potential for something ill-advised.

It was Collingwood who might have inadvertently caused his colleague's downfall. In his only remotely adventurous ploy he used his feet beautifully to Murali and drove him for six over long-on.

Seeing this, Jones attempted something similar, but Murali saw him coming in every way. Jones was bamboozled and stumped. He has scored 43 runs in his last five completed Test innings. Who would have thought that he would depend for his place on being a specialist wicketkeeper? Hey ho.

Collingwood dug deeper. He was dourly assisted first by Liam Plunkett, whose role at No 8 is for the moment an over- promotion apparently matched only by some members of Tony Blair's Cabinet. But he batted 58 balls for his nine and Matthew Hoggard faced 55 for his 10.

With his half-century in sight but never so close that he could touch it, Collingwood was leg before to the second new ball. A flurry from the debutant Jonathan Lewis saw England get to within two runs.

The tourists, as usual, lost an early wicket, but by the close had developed an ominous lead. On the ground where the Ashes were won, Sri Lanka and Murali should level the series. Ten months is almost a generation in international cricket.


Sri Lanka won toss

Sri Lanka - First Innings 231

(A Flintoff 3-52; J Lewis 3-68)

England - First Innings

(Overnight 53-2)

A N Cook b Malinga 24 (Inside edge on to stumps from attempted drive; 71 min, 54 balls, 1 four)

K P Pietersen c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 41 (Top-edged attempted slog sweep to short fine-leg; 109 min, 58 balls, 4 fours, 1 six)

P D Collingwood lbw b Vaas 48 (Hit on back pad playing all round an inswinger; 226 min, 184 balls, 1 six)

*A Flintoff c Jayawardene b Jayasuriya 1 (Edged back-foot forcing shot to slip; 5 min, 5 balls)

ÝG O Jones st Sangakkara b Muralitharan 19 (Charged down pitch but missed attempted drive; 53 min, 43 balls, 2 fours)

L E Plunkett b Jayasuriya 9 (Beaten on back foot by turning delivery; 72 min, 58 balls)

M J Hoggard c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 10 (Given out caught at slip but ball appeared to strike arm; 71 min, 55 balls)

J Lewis c Dilshan b Malinga 20 (Skied slower ball to deep cover; 40 min, 29 balls, 4 fours)

M S Panesar not out 0 (3 min, 3 balls)

Extras (b 2, lb 13, w 3, nb 8) 26

Total (378 min, 91.1 overs) 229

Fall (contd): 3-73 (Cook), 4-117 (Pietersen), 5-118 (Flintoff), 6-151 (Jones), 7-184 (Plunkett), 8-196 (Collingwood), 9-229 (Hoggard), 10-229 (Lewis).

Bowling: Vaas 26-5-71-2 (nb2,w2) (9-2-21-1 5-0-17-0 8-1-18-0 4-2-15-1), Malinga 23.1-3-62-2 (nb5,w1) (5-0-21-0 8-1-21-1 4-1-4-0 6.1-1-16-1), Muralitharan 31-10-62-3 (nb1) (4-0-8-0 2-1-8-0 23-9-44-2 2-0-2-1), Jayasuriya 11-4-19-2 (4-2-4-1 7-2-15-1).

Progress: Third day: 100 in 151 min, 31.5 overs. Lunch 139-5 (Collingwood 15, Jones 14) 45 overs. 150 in 226 min, 52 overs. Tea 191-7 (Collingwood 48, Hoggard 3) 80 overs. New ball taken after 80.2 overs at 191-7. 200 in 352 min, 85.4 overs. Innings closed 4.56pm.

Sri Lanka - Second Innings

M G Vandort b Hoggard 5 (Inside edge from attempted drive to inswinger; 4 min, 5 balls, 1 four)

W U Tharanga not out 17 (57 min, 43 balls, 3 fours)

K C Sangakkara not out 22 (52 min, 37 balls, 3 fours)

Extras (nb 1) 1

Total (for 1, 57 min, 14 overs) 45

To bat: D P M D Jayawardene, T M Dilshan, S T Jayasuriya, C K Kapugedera, M F Maharoof, W P U J C Vaas, S L Malinga, M Muralitharan.

Fall: 1-6 (Vandort).

Bowling: Hoggard 5-1-18-1 (one spell), Lewis 3-0-13-0 (2-0-7-0 1-0-6-0), Flintoff 3-0-12-0 (nb1) (2-0-7-0 1-0-5-0), Panesar 3-2-2-0 (one spell).

Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) & R Koertzen (SA). Third Umpire: P J Hartley. Match Referee: A G Hurst (Aus).