England v Sri Lanka report: Moeen Ali does England good turn but stubborn Sri Lanka dig in

Match report on events on Day 3 of the Test: Sri Lanka 257 & 214-4 England 365


Informed opinion in the morning was that England could end the affair quickly and prepare for higher matters involving India. This overlooked the small points that they barely remember how to win and that Sri Lanka are nobody’s patsies.

What might have been a straightforward day when wickets tumbled before uneven bounce and disconcerting swing was instead an arduous struggle on an increasingly placid surface. A position early on the third day of the second Test when it seemed there might be a wicket every other ball, and sometimes more frequently than that, transmogrified into one where it seemed a wicket was not certain to fall again.

The tourists were simply refusing to fold to order. Their eminent old warriors, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were leading them to a position where the outcome of the series would be far from certain. A deficit of 108 had become a surplus of 64. And then arrived the breach for which England had waited. It came from the most improbable quarter.

Moeen Ali, their part-time spinner thrust into the frontline role, took two wickets in three balls. It was high drama. The ball turned, which in turn turned the match and the series England’s way again. He removed Sangakkara with a straight one, the line of which the batsman misjudged, and then bowled the hapless Lahiru Thirimanne with a ball that turned past the outside edge.

But winning has become so alien in the last six months, and something which many of this young home side have never experienced in a Test match, that nothing can be certain. England would never have wished to be chasing more than 200 and that target might well have been revised downwards to around 150.

By the close, Sri Lanka were  214 for 4, 106 runs to the good and Jaywardene was still there on a craftsman’s 55, along with Angelo Mathews who batted like a man who has an average as captain in Test matches of 76. Wickets were steadfastly refusing to fall again.

How daft the prognosis of many old England hands had come to look. Yet it was based on the sound evidence that the ball was darting about off a length and that England had lost their last eight wickets for 87 –their last four for 45 in 71 balls in the first hour of the third morning.

Only Matt Prior’s late belligerence ensured the lead was into three figures. But nobody was able to stay with him as Shaminda Eranga and Mathews profited from pitching the ball up and befuddled the England tail.

If this continued it was clear that Sri Lanka would also lose wickets to an attack of four fast bowlers who were all more potent. But England oddly chose the wrong option. They banged it into the pitch rather than bowl at a fuller length. Their plan was to disrupt the Sri Lanka openers with a few howitzers at their heads but on this occasion a fuller length and a potentially swinging ball would have been more sensible. It seemed to be a case of sticking to a pre-ordained plan and not embracing the wisdom of the moment.

It would have also helped if they had seized their chances. England’s catching has been indifferent for a year or so, and this series has seen no improvement. When Dimuth Karunaratne was on four, Jimmy Anderson induced an edge which flew at a comfortable height slightly below the chest to second slip where Chris Jordan made a pig’s ear of it. This was at odds with the spectacular catch that Jordan took in the first innings but it was also England’s fifth drop of the match.

It meant that the opening pair were again able to give their team a start which avoided the need for panic. The breakthrough came from Liam Plunkett, who immediately introduced more energy into England’s business.

It would be impossible to have a bowling attack consisting entirely of Plunketts, running in and letting it go, but he adds a dimension which will always give opponents pause to doubt. He removed Kaushal Silva with a rapid full length ball which took the edge as the batsman groped forward and greeted Sangakkara with a vicious lifter which the batsman did not control.

Plunkett despatched Karunaratne too with a lifter from round the wicket which was gloved to Prior, who has now overtaken Alec Stewart as England’s second most prolific wicketkeeper. Only  Alan Knott now has more dismissals.

That seemed to be about that for England as the afternoon turned to evening. Sangakkara was serene, Jayawardene lacked his usual touch as he has all tour but was not about to go anywhere. Sangakkara played a few handsome cover drives, Jayawardene dug in. They put on fifty together for the third wicket for the 40th time in Test matches.

England were running out of ideas and with their captain, Alastair Cook, for a brief while at least parked on the square leg boundary, well away from the action, it was possible to wonder where they might be coming from. Cook is under enough close enough inspection without making such naive lapses.

He shuffled his four fast men without much sign of anything happening. Sri Lanka were comfortable, England distinctively less so. The lack of a spin bowler worthy of the name was rapidly becoming a significant factor. Moeen had been allowed one over until Cook, probably because he had nowhere else to go, threw him the ball for the 56th over.

There were a few rough patches for him to work with, the rest was up to him. The ball which ensnared Sangakkara was innocuous as the batsman’s reaction confirmed when his review of the lbw verdict failed. Balls which do not turn can sometimes do the trick. Thirimanne was on a king pair, which he avoided by one ball.

If it was any consolation the ball which did for him was a classic, drifting and then spinning away. It was all England had to settle for as their opponents played out the day in comfort.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits