Pietersen back to best as England edge ahead

Captain fails again on another rain-interrupted day but his side stay positive
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The Independent Online

It was a miserable day at the end of a wretched series. Like most of what had gone before, it was unsatisfactory for players who wanted to play, for spectators who wanted to watch and for umpires who were damned if they did and damned if they didn't.

The past few weeks have been a dreadful advertisement for the longest and best form of the game in the only country where it remains the dominant form. For how long that can remain so must be open to doubt. The most cherished of love affairs have a breaking point.

If the weather has been at its most capricious – and modern audiences make fewer allowances for it – Sri Lanka have been ill-equipped and indisciplined. England have not been granted enough time to take full advantage, but the bizarre events at the climax of the First Test in Cardiff, when the tourists were at their lamest, will ensure a series victory.

There were, as there almost invariably are in Test cricket, compensations on the third day, when more than 50 overs were eventuallypossible after the loss, in four stages, of more than three hours. Kevin Pietersen exhibited his most author-itative and dashing strokeplay in England for three years before being dismissed late in the day, by which time England had already taken the lead, and Alastair Cook continued his resplendent form. That was almost enough to cheer anybody up.

Given a fair wind in the next two days, there may well be ways for England to fashion their second victory of the series. It will demand them batting at the gallop today and may depend on Sri Lanka's unexpectedly fallible batting obliging yet again. On all the available evidence, both are eminently possible.

Pietersen was virtually in all his glory. It would be daft to suggest that he was returning to the scene of previous triumphs, since he played only two first-class matches at the Rose Bowl in six (nominal) seasons at Hampshire, but he was given adecent hand on arrival and rewardedhis supporters.

He was off the mark with a thumping straight four whose ferocious momentum was barely interrupted by hitting the stumps at the bowler's end, and his series of strokes down the ground was a joy to behold. There have been times when it was possible to wonder if Pietersen would bat like this again, positive footwork matched by studiously aggressive shots, despite his protestations to the contrary. And despite what he might sometimes think, it is always welcome.

Cook became only the fourth England batsmen to score six consecutiveTest fifties and the first since Ken Barrington 48 years ago. The others were Ted Dexter, also in 1963, and Patsy Hendren, in 1930, and if it is auspicious company to keep, Cook is entirely at home in it.

That particular statistic is only part of the Cook story as he has told it since late last year. Of his 13 innings in that time, starting with the second in the Third Test against Pakistan last August, he has passed 50 in nine of them, 100 in six.

Sri Lanka tried a round-the-wicketattack to him for a little while yesterday, perceiving some weakness. But they gave it up eventually. One cover drive Cook played, waiting before threading his shot through the field, invited comparisons with David Gower, a juxtaposition of styles which has not always been obvious to the naked eye. It was almost a sensation ("Cook Out!" the old newspaper bills would have screamed) when he drove in front of his body, rightly trying to force the pace, and smeared the shot into the hands of gully.

Sri Lanka, whose first innings was finally ended, though it lasted only 64.2 overs, were again short of the necessary. How long ago that muggy March night in Colombo seems now. What a side Sri Lanka were then, winning the World Cup quarter-final tie against England by 10 wickets, going away.

They could do nothing wrong and England could do nothing right. It seemed that they might be worthy adversaries this summer, but there have been crucial differences.

This is Test cricket, for which Sri Lanka have never shown much inclination away from home, and they are still adjusting to life without MuttiahMuralitharan, when they might find it easier to give up oxygen.

Not that everything was roses for England, even on this ground. Andrew Strauss, their captain, was out cheaply for the fourth time this summer, in which he has so far made 27 Test runs. For third time in succession he was dismissed by the left-arm fast bowler Chanaka Welegedara.

There is no point in Strauss insisting that he does not have a weakness against this type of bowling, since if that were so he would not keepgetting out to it. His tentative shot to a ball that he could have left wasslip-catching practice for Tharanga Paranavitana, and he made no mistake.

The second England wicket to fall before they had got into their stride was Jonathan Trott, uncharacteristically driving at a wide one, also from round the wicket. There had been relief for Stuart Broad in the first brief part of the day when he took a wicket,at last, to end Sri Lanka's innings. Until the one-day series at least, there may be no relief for Sri Lanka.

Southampton Scoreboard

England won toss

Sri Lanka First innings

Overnight: 177-9 (C T Tremlett 6-42)

Bls 4s 6s

C R D Fernando not out 39/51/6/0

U W M Welegedara c Morgan b Broad 7/17/1/0

Extras (b 2 lb 14 w 4 nb 2) 22

Total (64.2 overs) 184

Fall: 1-23, 2-23, 3-29, 4-39, 5-89, 6-91, 7-117, 8-158, 9-166.

Bowling: Anderson 23-7-56-2/ Broad 19.2-3-51-1/ Tremlett 20-5-49-6/ Swann 2-0-12-1.

England First innings

Bls 4s 6s

*A J Strauss c Paranavitana b Welegedara 3/10/0/0

A N Cook c Samaraweera b Fernando 55/102/7/0

I J L Trott c H A P W Jayawardene b Lakmal 4/17/0/0

K P Pietersen

c H A P W Jayawardene b Perera 85/115/14/0

I R Bell not out 39/48/6/0

J M Anderson not out 0/3/0/0

Extras (w 2 nb 7)/9

Total (for 4, 48 overs) 195

Fall: 1-4, 2-14, 3-120, 4-191.

To bat: E J G Morgan,M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, C T Tremlett.

Bowling: Welegedara 13-1-44-1/ Lakmal 11.4-1-52-1/ Fernando 6.2-0-36-1/ Perera 13-2-46-1/ Herath 4-0-17-0.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and R J Tucker (Aus).