The chances of a positive result in the second Test today are between slim and none. But then slim had left town when similar circumstances applied in Cardiff last week and the match still finished in a rousing climax when England somehow went 1-0 ahead in the series against Sri Lanka.
Since Nasa scientists have long since proved beyond doubt that lightning can strike twice, perhaps a draw is far from a foregone conclusion. Perhaps. After a shortened fourth day, on which play was delayed for more than two hours and interrupted again later, England led by 156 runs. On Monday last week, they bowled out Sri Lanka for 82.
It is unlikely that Andrew Strauss, England's captain, will contemplate a bold declaration which gives the tourists the prospect of levelling the series because he will want to protect his lead. That leaves the other improbable option of Sri Lanka bowling England out in their second innings by tea and charging for victory. But no Muttiah Muralitharan continues to equal what it always has for them – not enough wickets.
The overwhelming likelihood is that England will bat on, put the match out of reach and then give Sri Lanka minimal batting time. That was the sort of scenario that pertained at Sophia Gardens except that England had another innings left, thus offering total insurance from defeat.
It was mildly unexpected that the Test progressed as much as it did yesterday. England took the last seven of Sri Lanka's first-innings wickets in 20 overs and then finished the day on 149 for 2, largely, but not entirely, unimpeded by their opponents' bowlers.
After the early, perhaps portentous, dismissal of Strauss, it was inevitable that Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott should both score fifties in a partnership of 117. It was much less easy to foresee that Trott would be out for 58, yielding his wicket in uncharacteristic fashion by playing over a dipping delivery from the left-arm spinner Rangana Herath.
Which brought in Kevin Pietersen, much to the crowd's joy. Whoops of delight greeted his safe negotiation of his first two deliveries from Herath, one of the breed which has been his constant nemesis, and the volume increased when he nudged a single to get him off the mark.
Strauss at least did Kevin Pietersen a favour. Before the Test, the captain had mused on the topic of one batsman inevitably being particularly scrutinised in any team because one is usually out of form. Pietersen has been under the microscope but he may shortly either be relieved or have to make room on the slide for Strauss.
After garnering two hundreds for Middlesex last month, Strauss could not have wished to come into this series in better form. So far his scores have been 20, 4 and 0 and yesterday he lasted two balls. He was unfortunate that both of these from Chanaka Welegedara were searing late swingers but that is what openers have to expect.
The first reared away, the second was fuller, kept coming and Strauss, choosing the wrong line, was rapped on the back pad. The resultant review was only ever going to go one way and unfortunately felt like it was requested as part of the captain's perks.
It was his 22nd dismissal to left-arm pace, his second in this match, and the charge that he has a defective method against them will be difficult to counter. The weakness seemed to become glaringly apparent when Zaheer Khan, the sophisticated India left-arm swing bowler, dismissed him four times in the 2007 series in England, and Zaheer will be on the prowl again later in the summer.
Strauss has plenty of credit left but even double Ashes winning captains need runs. When they have retired from all forms of limited-overs cricket, as Strauss has done, they may need them a little sooner.
Sri Lanka's innings folded much quicker than they would have preferred when play finally started following an early lunch. Instead of a lead, which they might have expected after their captain Tillakaratne Dilshan's wonderful innings, they trailed by seven.
England's bowlers were still aberrant in line and the leg side still seemed to attract them. But between times, as on the previous day, they came up with enough good stuff to test the batsmen and this time they were rewarded.
Before the day was eight overs old, Steven Finn had Mahela Jayawardene caught at third slip pushing forward. Cook will have been relieved that it stuck after a few misdemeanours in the position. On the same score, Thilan Samaraweera, another dangerous customer, flirted away from his body and was caught behind.
When Stuart Broad had Farveez Maharoof lbw there was a prospect of a large lead. This disappeared in a welter of gleeful hits by Herath and something more cultured from Prasanna Jayawardene, the Cardiff centurion. Finn came back to take his fourth wicket but a late incursion by Graeme Swann brought him three wickets.
There were two smart catches, which was heartening for England after some less rigorous work in that department lately. Swann darted low to his left at second slip to end Jayawardene's occupation and Strauss reflexively stuck out his left hand at slip to dismiss Herath.
When Cook and Trott were doing much as they pleased after Strauss's departure there was a further delay because the umpires decided the light was too poor to continue. Their logic would be intriguing to hear. It was murky but two accomplished batsmen were in, more evidence that the game remains unenlightened.
Lord's (Fourth day of five): England are leading Sri Lanka by 156 runs with 8 second-innings wickets in hand
Sri Lanka won toss
ENGLAND — First Innings 486 (Prior 126, Cook 96, Morgan 79, Broad 54, Bell 52, Welegedara 4-122)
SRI LANKA — First Innings Overnight 372-3 (Dilshan 193, Paranavitana 65)
D P M D Jayawardene c Cook b Finn 49
84 balls 0 sixes 8 fours
T T Samaraweera c Prior b Tremlett 9
42 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
†H A P W Jayawardene c Swann b Finn 40
64 balls 1 sixes 5 fours
M F Maharoof lbw b Broad 2
14 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
H M R K B Herath st Prior b Swann 26
33 balls 1 sixes 2 fours
C R D Fernando c Strauss b Swann 5
7 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
R A S Lakmal not out 0
9 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
U W M B C A Welegedara c Broad b Swann 6
9 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (b25 lb23 w8 nb2) 58
Total (131.4 overs) 479
Fall: 1-207, 2-288, 3-370, 4-394, 5-394, 6-409, 7-466, 8-472, 9-472.
Bowling: S C J Broad 32-5-125-1 (5-2-5-0; 5-0-28-0; 4-0-17-0; 6-1-17-0; 4-0-29-0; 2-0-2-0; 6-2-27-1), C T Tremlett 30-8-85-2 (1nb) (6-2-21-0; 5-1-20-0; 5-1-9-0; 3-0-8-1; 5-1-16-0; 6-3-11-1), S T Finn 33-8-108-4 (1nb) (7wd) (4-1-11-0; 3-1-7-0; 5-0-30-1; 4-0-11-0; 14-5-40-2; 3-1-9-1), G P Swann 32.4-5-101-3 (11-2-35-0; 1-0-3-0; 6-1-12-0; 6-2-15-0; 8.4-1-36-3), K P Pietersen 4-0-12-0 (3-0-11-0; 1-0-1-0)
ENGLAND — Second Innings
*A J Strauss lbw b Welegedara 0
2 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
A N Cook not out 61
134 balls 0 sixes 6 fours
I J L Trott b Herath 58
75 balls 0 sixes 9 fours
K P Pietersen not out 15
44 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
Extras (lb5 w1 nb9) 15
Total (for 2, 41 overs) 149
Fall: 1-0, 2-117.
To Bat: I R Bell, E J G Morgan, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, C T Tremlett, S T Finn.
Bowling: U W M B C A Welegedara 7-1-25-1 (1nb) (6-1-23-1; 1-0-2-0), R A S Lakmal 8-0-31-0 (3nb) (1wd) (5-0-17-0; 3-0-14-0), M F Maharoof 7-0-24-0 (2nb) (4-0-17-0; 3-0-7-0), C R D Fernando 11-1-47-0 (3nb) (11-1-47-0), H M R K B Herath 8-1-17-1 (7-1-16-1; 1-0-1-0)
Progress: Sri Lanka: 400 runs in 111.5 overs, 450 runs in 123.5 overs, 479 all out. England Tea: 18-1 (Cook 11, Trott 5), 50 in 12.3 overs, Trott 50 off 66 balls (8 fours), 100 in 23.5 overs, Cook 50 off 86 balls (6 fours).
Match Umpires: BR Doctrove (WI) & RJ Tucker (Aus)
3rd Umpire: Aleem Dar (Pak)
Match Referee: J Srinath (Ind)Reuse content