Giles spins England back into contention

First Test, Sri Lanka 138-4 v England: England bowler lifts tourists with two late wickets to halt Sri Lanka's painstaking progress
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The Independent Online

Michael Vaughan looked a forlorn and solitary figure as he made his way back to the dressing-room on the first morning of the first Test. The England captain had just lost a crucial toss on a pitch tailor-made for Sri Lanka's spinners.

For 50 overs of a truncated day's play his bowlers toiled manfully but this match appeared to be heading the way that most English supporters feared. Sri Lanka were coasting along on 132 for 2 and seemed certain to post the large score that would win them this match.

Then Ashley Giles struck in his first over at the Galle Fort End. The Warwickshire spinner had already picked up the wicket of Sanath Jayasuriya in his first spell but it was when he found the inside edge of Mahela Jayawardene's bat that England felt, for the first time, they were in this game.

Thirty-one balls later, and without a single run added to the score, the tall left-arm spinner claimed his third victim of day when a frustrated Hashan Tillakaratne attempted to cut a ball that spun back into him. The wicketkeeper, Chris Read, took the catch and it was the Sri Lanka captain who cut a sorry figure as he made his way back to the pavilion.

Ten minutes later, and with the home side on 138 for 4, bad light caused play to be abandoned. As he led his team off, Vaughan's expression was incomparable to that of seven and a half hours earlier. Surrounded by his team-mates, the captain had a big smile on his face and looked very much the man in charge.

Vaughan's delight over England's fightback would have been made even more enjoyable by the fact that it was his best mate who proved to be the catalyst. Both he and Giles will know that England, on a pitch which will only become harder to bat on, are far from being in control of this match but at least they are still in it.

Giles has had a miserable 12 months - 10 wickets at an average of 68.1 in eight Test matches - since he took six wickets against Australia at the Gabba. A week after that haul, Stephen Harmison fractured Giles's wrist while he was batting in the nets at Adelaide. His close-of-play figures here, 10-4-13-3, are his best since.

Giles's lack of success has led him to tinker with his action, which is a dangerous thing to do on a tour in which you are expected to be a potent member of the bowling attack.

He has put his poor form down to the fact that he was under-cutting the ball at the moment of release through bowling around his body. And, in an effort to conquer this, the 30-year-old has tried to straighten his run-up out so that in his delivery stride he does not leap to the left. Through pointing his body down the wicket rather than at third man he hopes to get more spin, bounce and drop on his bowling.

"It has been a tough few months for me," Giles said. "I have been working hard at what I have been doing and at last I am getting some reward for it. My bowling is getting there and my mind is now on where I am bowling rather than where my feet are landing.

"It was tough to lose the toss on a good deck but I think we have come out of the day very well. We are not kidding ourselves because this is the first day of 15 very, very hard days and we will have to come out and do the same again and again. They will have the best of the wicket and every run is vital because come days three and four it will be turning quite a lot. This is our first battle of the war."

The hardest thing to add to your game, however, is confidence but this seemed to return when an unusually subdued Jayasuriya chipped a soft catch to Paul Collingwood at short-leg. This was the first of two catches for the Durham all-rounder, who only found out he would be making his Test debut at the last minute when Nasser Hussain was forced to withdraw with a virus.

Collingwood's second catch could have had as much to do with the sponsors of this Test series distracting Jayawardene as the bowling of Giles. Mobitel, a local telecom company, has wasted few opportunities to advertise its product here but the Sri Lanka players may now ask them to refrain from putting a huge hot air balloon behind the sightscreen at one end.

When Giles was bowling over the wicket to the left-handed Kumar Sangakkara, the balloon was not in vision but when he came round to Jayawardene, the flame and operator were right behind the bowler's arm.

It was just as well Giles did return to form because it was only he and Andrew Flintoff who looked like taking wickets. After winning man-of-the-match awards in his first two Test matches, Richard Johnson had a taste of what real Test cricket is like. Bowling at less than 80mph for the majority of the day the Somerset pace bowler swung the new ball but looked laboured as the day wore on. And as for England's second spin bowler, Gareth Batty, Giles admitted: "I am just glad the lifeguards dragged him in."