On the eve of the first Test, Mahela Jayawardene mused on how the series might hinge on who broke first. He clearly had no intention whatsoever of it being him.
Leading Sri Lanka in a Test match for the first time in three years, he single-handedly navigated them to a position of safety against England yesterday after they had skirted perilously close to the rocks. He made his 30th Test hundred, his seventh at Galle, finishing the day unbeaten on 168, with the next highest score being 27.
That he was dropped four times, on 64, 90, 147 and 152 seemed to be interfering with nature, because he was largely sublime. Only Jayawardene stopped the tourists running through Sri Lanka. He was as easy on the eye as he has been for most of the last decade and, now he has got money in his pocket again after the Sri Lanka board paid its players for the first time in almost a year, he has a renewed sense of purpose.
On this ground four years ago, Jayawardene made 213 not out in a drawn match that Sri Lanka ought to have won and yesterday he ensured that his team remained competitive in the series. At 15 for 3, with Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad using the new ball with compelling zeal, they were in danger of terminal collapse. Tired after being on the road for three months playing one-day tournaments – they arrived in town two days after England – they looked short of preparation for a Test series.
But Jayawardene's graceful innings allowed considerable redemption and Sri Lanka were 289 for 8 at the close. It might yet be enough to make a fist of it if the pitch wears by days four and five.
England should have removed him. The first two chances fell to Anderson, the second pair to Monty Panesar. On 64, when the game was still all England, Jayawardene received a ball from Graeme Swann which surprised him with turn and bounce. Taking the shoulder of the bat, the ball looped agonisingly over Anderson, who could only touch it with fingertips. That would have made the score 131 for 6.
Jayawardene again escaped when he prodded a slower ball back at Anderson, only for it to squeeze through outstretched hands. The game had moved on when Panesar failed to grab a catch at long leg and Jayawardene was 152 when Panesar, more culpably still, shelled a skier at mid-on.
By then England were bound to have been wilting in the oppressive heat, but they would have chosen anybody but Panesar to be on the receiving end of those opportunities. Panesar was upset and several of his team-mates made a beeline to him as the players trudged off at the end. They were consoling him, too, rather than attempting to throttle him.
Anderson warranted better. He was admirable in becoming the sixth England bowler to 250 Test wickets, as was almost all of England's attack, including Samit Patel on his debut.
Patel turned out to be the answer to what England would do about their need for a fifth bowler. It meant it was the first time for almost 20 years that they took the field with three spinners in the side.
England made light of losing what seemed to be an important toss. Jayawardene must have felt like punching the air when the coin came down the right way but resisted the temptation to run in the direction of the dressing room. An hour later he will have been glad he did.
With his eighth ball of the series, Anderson produced a beauty for Lahiru Thirimanne, which the batsman had to play. It might have moved just a fraction and Graeme Swann pouched a smart catch moving to his right at second slip.
In came Kumar Sangakkara, a different set of exotic syllables altogether. Ninety times out of 100, perhaps 99 out 100 he would have left the ball six
inches outside off which came his way. But he was just in, he had not played a match of more than 50 overs for three months, he jabbed irresistibly at it and Matt Prior did the rest.
Prior, incidentally, decided after all to wear pads for wicketkeeping after discarding them in the second practice match. The game might, as he observed, be moving on but there is still a time and a place for everything.
In the following over, Stuart Broad produced a lovely ball to Tillakaratne Dilshan, who was already a man on a mission, cramping him for space. The edge was taken by Strauss at first slip.
Everything was going England's way at this stage and the balance of power seemed to be confirmed shortly after lunch. Anderson, in his follow-through, touched a return drive from Jayawardene on to the stumps to run out Thilan Samaraweera, who was backing up.
But all the time, Jayawardene was dictating his terms. He ensured he scored off the bad balls – three in an over from Anderson went for four, two of them from serene cuts, one a casual clip off his legs – and he allowed Swann no time to settle by clouting his third ball for six. Masterful stuff.
Jayawardene and Dinesh Chandimal assembled another half-century stand before Chandimal gave Patel his maiden Test wicket, playing a grotesque heave across the line. Two balls and 30 overs later Patel, having been removed immediately from the attack, had his second when Rangana Herath was lbw.
It was a day that Patel must have thought would never come when he was prohibited from England squads because of fitness issues. It wasn't at all bad for a fat lad from Nottingham.
Timeline: how the first day unfolded
5.46am (UK time) Sri Lanka 11-1, 11-2: Lahiru Thirimanne 3, Kumar Sangakkara 0.
James Anderson takes quickfire wickets to give England the early impetus, Thirimanne and Sangakkara falling to successive deliveries.
5.54am Sri Lanka 15-3: Tillakaratne Dilshan 11
Stuart Broad continues the assault with an edged ball, caught by captain Andrew Strauss, removing the swashbuckling Dilshan to keep England firmly in control.
9.27am Sri Lanka 67-4, 128-5: Thilan Samaraweera 20, Dinesh Chandimal 27
England take another two, Samara-weera falling to an Anderson run out and Samit Patel having Chandimal caught by Ian Bell for first Test wicket.
10.35am Sri Lanka 170-6: Prasanna Jayawardene 23
Anderson removes the Sri Lankan wicketkeeper with an lbw decision in the first over after tea. The ball nips back. After a review the decision is upheld.
10.55am Sri Lanka 191-7: Suraj Randiv 12
England move into the hosts' lower order with a run out courtesy of a superb direct hit from captain Strauss and Randiv is inches short of his ground.
11.08am Sri Lanka 205-7: Century for M Jayawardene
Mahela Jayawardene completes another accomplished century with a delicate fine sweep, having batted beautifully and facing 200 balls. It is the 34-year-old's 30th Test century.
12.02pm Sri Lanka 253-8: Rangana Herath 5
Despite a Sri Lankan review, Patel gets the reward for a tidy spell of bowling with his second Test wicket, following a drifting delivery that has Herath clearly out lbw.
12.19pm Sri Lanka 263-8, 273-8: Two more dropped catches
Home hero Jayawardene is dropped for a third and fourth time – both by Monty Panesar who spills at deep square and third man to allow the century maker to continue his stand.
Missed a trick: the drops
9.47am (BST) Anderson drops Mahela Jayawardene off the bowling of Graeme Swann, despite an acrobatic effort in the field. Jayawardene on 64
11.03am Anderson drops Jayawardene for a second time off his own bowling, for what would have been a relatively simple catch. Jayawardene now just 10 away from his century.
12.14pm Monty Panesar drops a routine chance, Jayawardene let off again off Anderson's bowling. Jayawardene on 147.
12.19pm Panesar drops Jayawardene again off Stuart Broad – another clanger. Jayawardene has moved on to 152.
First Test, Galle International Stadium (first day of five): Sri Lanka have scored 289 for 8 wickets against England
Sri Lanka won toss
SRI LANKA First Innings
H D R L Thirimanne c Swann b Anderson 3
12 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
T M Dilshan c Strauss b Broad 11
8 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
K C Sangakkara c Prior b Anderson 0
1 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
*D P M D Jayawardene not out 168
290 balls 3 sixes 20 fours
T T Samaraweera run out 20
82 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
L D Chandimal c Bell b Patel 27
48 balls 2 sixes 2 fours
†H A P W Jayawardene lbw b Anderson 23
40 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
S Randiv run out 12
15 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
H M R K B Herath lbw b Patel 5
30 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
U W M B C A Welegedara not out 10
18 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
Extras (lb6 nb4) 10
Total (for 8, 90 overs) 289
Fall 1-11, 2-11, 3-15, 4-67, 5-128, 6-170, 7-191, 8-253.
To bat R A S Lakmal.
Bowling: JM Anderson: 17-5-56-3 (6-3-10-2; 4-0-15-0; 4-1-18-1; 3-1-13-0), SCJ Broad: 18-1-66-1 (4-0-17-1; 3-0-3-0; 2-0-12-0; 2-0-9-0; 3-0-8-0; 4-1-17-0) (4nb), MS Panesar: 23-11-42-0 (5-4-1-0; 3-1-9-0; 5-3-6-0; 2-1-4-0; 3-2-5-0; 4-0-16-0; 1-0-1-0), GP Swann: 23-3-92-0 (6-0-18-0; 17-3-74-0), SR Patel: 9-1-27-2 (3-1-8-0; 5-0-18-1; 1-0-1-1).
England: *A J Strauss, A N Cook, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, †M J Prior, S R Patel, S C J Broad, G P Swann, M S Panesar, J M Anderson.
Progress: Sri Lanka 50 runs in 23.4 overs, Lunch: 66-3 in 30 overs (M Jayawardene 30, Samaraweera 19), 100 runs in 41.4 overs, Jayawardene 50 off 134 balls (7 fours, 1 sixes), 150 runs in 56.3 overs, Tea: 168-5 in 61 overs (M Jayawardene 80, H Jayawardene 21, 200 in 67.6 overs, M Jayawardene 100 off 200 balls (12 fours, 2 sixes), 250 runs in 79.1 overs, M Jayawardene 150 off 259 balls (17 fours, 3 sixes), Close 289-8 in 90 overs (M Jayawardene 168, Welegedara 10).
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pakistan) & R J Tucker (Australia).
Third umpire: B N J Oxenford (Australia).
Match referee: J Srinath (India).