New character gives selectors a dilemma as Hussain returns

Sri Lanka 331 & 226 England 235 & 210-9 Match drawn
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The Independent Online

Picking a hero from the England team that drew with Sri Lanka on Saturday is a difficult task because Michael Vaughan had 11 in his dressing room when bad light prematurely ended an absorbing first Test. There were four overs still to be bowled when the umpires eventually informed Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard, England's two remaining batsmen, that the light had fallen below an acceptable level.

Mark Butcher occupied the crease for 402 minutes while compiling a half-century in each innings and Paul Collingwood batted for almost three hours on his debut under intense pressure. All this effort would have felt wasted however had Hoggard not survived for 13 minutes against the wizard Muttiah Muralitharan.

"Batting at number nine, 10 or 11 in conditions like this is one of the most difficult things in cricket," said Duncan Fletcher, England's sympathetic coach. "Their techniques are not very good but they have to go in and face the likes of [Shoaib] Akhtar and Brett Lee in situations like that, when they are really under pressure. It is not a pleasant time to go in and Richard Johnson showed as much character as Giles and Hoggard."

Character is becoming a word commonly used by members of this England side when they talk about themselves as a group, but it is just what they needed to show to survive in this match. From the moment Vaughan lost the toss on Tuesday morning England have been struggling to stay in contact with a Sri Lankan team containing one of the game's great bowlers and 10 other players who are ideally suited to the conditions.

"This was a very good result for us because there are not many sides who have achieved what we have here," said Fletcher. "When you win the toss at this ground, basically you should win the game."

It looked as though this would be the case when Andrew Flintoff was caught in the gully with 57 overs still to be bowled. It left Collingwood, England's only remaining recognised batsman, with the responsibility of inspiring an inexperienced lower order.

"We gave Collingwood a central contract because we see him playing an important role in English cricket for several years to come," said Fletcher, who is a huge fan of the Durham batsman: "In the second innings he showed a lot of patience. This was exactly what we required because it was a war of attrition out there. We are trying to pick a squad of players who have character and want to play for England and he is one of those guys."

Collingwood's match-saving innings may not be enough to secure him a place in Wednesday's Second Test however. Nasser Hussain is yet to fully recover from the virus that ruled him out of the Galle Test but his competitive nature means he will not be want to give Collingwood too many opportunities to show what he is capable of.

That Hussain has had one proper innings in the last month - it lasted two balls - will work against him but it should be remembered that the former England captain scored 75 and 96 in his last Test in Bangladesh.

"Nasser is a very experienced player who has proved his worth at Test cricket but we still need to be sure he is well enough," Fletcher said.

"Our other concern is Ashley Giles who was very sick on Saturday. He has exactly the same thing as Nasser and it came on at the start of the day. He deserves a great deal of credit for batting the way that he did."

Giles is another limited cricketer who never knows when he is beaten and it seems ironic that his unbeaten 107 minute innings in this game will be remembered with greater fondness than career best figures of 8-132.

England's number nine arrived at the crease after Collingwood gave Hashan Tillakaratne his third catch of the innings when he squeezed a catch to silly-point. Gareth Batty was attempting to do his bit but the black clouds which had threatened to help England's cause stayed in the hills.

With time and overs ticking by and the umpires checking their light meters at the end of every over the tension was becoming unbearable. Several adjacent looking appeals were turned down by Daryl Harper and Srinivas Venkat and England's batsmen were attempting to waste as much time as possible by changing their gloves and calling for water. By the end of the game James Kirtley, England's 12th man, had spent enough time on the field to have earnt his third Test cap.

During this match there have been the usual rumblings about Muralitharan's bowling action but Clive Lloyd, the match referee, will not be making any comment in his end of match report. "The umpires and myself do not feel his bowling action has changed from when we have previously seen him," Lloyd said. "We will not be reporting him and if we did we would inform the players board and the International Cricket Council before we made the news public."

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