From nowhere, England won the first Test yesterday. A match that was drifting to a merciful close, had been ruined by rain and was destined to be expunged from the memory banks, will instead live forever.
Somehow, England defeated Sri Lanka by an innings and 14 runs. In two hours of unforeseen mayhem they comprehensively dismantled their opponents. Sri Lanka were bowled out for 82 in 24.4 overs, timidly undone by a side which has learnt that no match can ever be casually consigned to the scoreboard scrapheap.
Reduced to a three-man bowling attack, England found that it was plenty. Chris Tremlett, one of the titans of the Ashes, made the early breaches with a savage spell of fast bowling that was persistent in its calm hostility. Graeme Swann then climbed gleefully in to deepen the wound and Stuart Broad finished off a team who had abandoned all sense of discipline or hope.
By the time England confirmed their sensational victory at 5.32pm the sun was shining blissfully over the ground. How different it was from earlier on the fifth day, which started with torrential rain, eventually gave way to incessant drizzle and then gradually cleared so that by 3pm play was finally possible.
The general feeling was that cricket was doing itself no favours. There seemed no point in playing on for a desultory draw in front of a few dozen spectators, most of whom must have been already wet through. That sense of vague irritation was multiplied when England decided to extend their first innings purely so that Ian Bell could reach his 13th Test hundred, which he duly did with a sublime late cut for four from the last ball of the day's second over.
England immediately charged from the field but it meant that four overs of the day had gone, sacrificed it seemed on the altar of personal glorification. All Sri Lanka, whose strength is batting, had to do was survive for 51 overs, in which time they would presumably overhaul England's lead of 96.
At this point the odds, not unreasonably were 1-500 the draw, 1,000-1 a win for Sri Lanka (though actually impossible) and a rather miserly 50-1 for an England win. England immediately set about disrupting the market.
The pitch had held up well all match. If anything it had been much too slow, allowing batsmen to take their time, draining the lifeblood of bowlers. But Tremlett, given the new ball in the absence of Jimmy Anderson with a side strain, loped in deceptively as he had done in Australia last winter.
To his sixth ball Tharanga Paranavitana pushed forward a little too forcefully and when it jagged away he edged it towards first slip where England's captain, Andrew Strauss, took a smart low catch. In Tremlett's next over, he got one to lift at Sri Lanka's captain, Tillekeratne Dilshan. The ball glanced the glove, smashed into the thigh pad and ballooned back towards Tremlett. Dilshan asked for the decision to be reviewed but only a replay on a John Logie Baird prototype television might have saved him.
Already, England had a semblance of optimism, but there lay in wait now the two Sri Lankan champions, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, seen it all and done most all as well. If they could see it through to tea, that surely would be that, a straightforward draw, honour satisfied on both sides, both teams could look forward to Lord's and the second Test starting on Friday.
This they duly did and although Jayawardene did not look especially stable, the pair's experience counted for everything. In the first over after tea (and it was a good question why an interval was needed so soon on such a curtailed day in such a rain-marred match) Jayawardene played forward to Tremlett, switching from the River End to the Cathedral End, and also edged to Strauss at slip.
That was the signal for panic in the tourists' ranks. It swept through them as though it was a pandemic announced by the World Health Organisation. Their worst nightmare now came to the fore in the guise of Swann.
He reached the status of No 1 spin bowler in the world because of clever and smart bowling but once there his reputation has preceded him and he uses it serenely. For reasons known only to the batsman, Thilan Samaraweera cut a drifting ball that was too close for the purpose and edged on to his stumps. Sangakkara, unsettled by the disarray, edged an off break and again Strauss snared it low.
What was once impossible was now becoming inevitable and three balls later, Farveez Maharoof got a faint edge to Swann. In the next over Tremlett unsettled the first innings centurion, Prasanna Jayawardene, with a short ball, his hook being gloved behind.
There were perhaps 200 in the ground, it felt like 20,000 by now, so engaged were they by these events. Sri Lanka had lost seven wickets, their last three without scoring. Soon, Rangana Herath essayed a crazy sweep at Swann, was leg before, and the bowler had 4 for 2 from 10 balls.
Nothing could stop England now, nothing did. Thisara Perera swung the bat lustily as did Ajantha Mendis but it was forlorn. It was decided to attack Perera with the short ball against which he was clueless. When he fended off a bouncer from Tremlett Bell, from short leg, and the substitute fielder, Stewart Walters, from mid-wicket, went off in pursuit and collided. For a dreadful moment it looked as though Bell might be hurt. But he recovered, dusted himself down and in the next over from the Cathedral End, this time from Broad, took a magnificent diving catch low to his right.
Two balls later, Broad unleashed another accurate short ball and it was all over as Alastair Cook took a straightforward chance. Jonathan Trott was made man of the match for his innings of 203, which was truly worthy but at no point seemed like a match-winner. How wrong that perception was. This England should not be doubted.
Cardiff (Fifth day of five): England beat Sri Lanka by an innings and 14 runs
Sri Lanka won toss
SRI LANKA — First Innings 400 (H A P W Jayawardene 112, Paranavitana 66, Samaraweera 58, Dilshan 50)
ENGLAND — First Innings Overnight 491-5 (Trott 203, Cook 133)
I R Bell not out 103
159 balls 1 sixes 11 fours
E J G Morgan not out 14
19 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
Extras (b10 lb4 nb5) 19
Total (for 5 dec, 155 overs) 496
Fall: 1-46, 2-47, 3-298, 4-305, 5-465.
Did Not Bat: †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, C T Tremlett.
Bowling: R A S Lakmal 22-4-68-1, N L T C Perera 24-5-81-0, T M Dilshan 16-1-60-1, M F Maharoof 28-3-92-1, B A W Mendis 21-4-66-1, H M R K B Herath 44-7-115-1.
SRI LANKA — Second Innings
N T Paranavitana c Strauss b Tremlett 0
10 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
*T M Dilshan c & b Tremlett 10
10 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
K C Sangakkara c Strauss b Swann 14
38 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
D P M D Jayawardene c Strauss b Tremlett 15
32 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
T T Samaraweera b Swann 0
9 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
†H A P W Jayawardene c Prior b Tremlett 3
6 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
M F Maharoof c Prior b Swann 0
3 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
N L T C Perera c Bell b Broad 20
17 balls 0 sixes 4 fours
H M R K B Herath lbw b Swann 3
3 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
B A W Mendis not out 12
18 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
R A S Lakmal c Cook b Broad 0
2 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (b5) 5
Total (24.4 overs) 82
Fall: 1-1, 2-10, 3-33, 4-36, 5-43, 6-43, 7-43, 8-52, 9-82.
Bowling: England: S C J Broad 7.4-1-21-2 (6-1-19-0; 1.4-0-2-2), C T Tremlett 10-2-40-4 (5-1-12-2; 5-1-28-2), G P Swann 7-1-16-4 (7-1-16-4).
Progress: Fifth Day: Bell: 100 off 159 balls (11 fours, 1 six). 496-5dec in 155.0 overs. Sri Lanka: Tea: 33-2 in 12.0 overs (Sangakkara 7, M Jayawardene 15), 50 runs in 18.5 overs, 82 all out in 24.4 overs.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and B R Doctrove (WI)
TV umpire: R J Tucker (Aus)
Match referee: J Srinath (Ind)
The final day in numbers
4 Graeme Swann took four wickets in just 10 balls.
5 Sri Lanka lost five wickets in just 22 balls.
8 Sri Lanka lost eight wickets for 49 runs in 12 overs.
111 Time in minutes it took for England to take 10 wickets
82 Sri Lanka's fourth lowest total since they were admitted into Test cricket. Their lowest was 71 against Pakistan in Kandy in 1994.
1/500 Odds one bookmaker was offering the game to finish as a draw this morning.
Timeline: How a dramatic final day unfolded
3:00pm Play finally commences for the day
3:12pm Ian Bell completes his century. England declare on 496-5
3:29pm Tremlett has Paranavitana caught at first slip Sri Lanka 1 for 1
3:37pm Dilshan flustered by lifter from Tremlett which takes glove, smashes into thigh pad and gives return catch 10 for 2
4:34pm Mahela Jayawardene pushes forward and edges to slip 33 for 3
4:45pm Graeme Swann enters the attack and bowls Samaraweera 36 for 4
4:54pm Sangakkara pushes turning ball to slip 43 for 5
4:57pm Maharoof edges behind 43 for 6
5:01pm Prasanna Jaywardene hooks short ball off glove 43 for 7
5:07pm Swann traps Herath lbw 52 for 8
5:30pm Broad's bouncer is parried by Perera to short leg 82 for 9
5:32pm Lakmal loops to slip 82 all out