Sri Lanka 141 & 231 England 295 & 81-4: Plunkett back on the attack to seal victory

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The Independent Online

The ruthlessness that has been absent from much of England's cricket this summer reappeared briefly yesterday morning to help Andrew Flintoff's side complete a six-wicket victory over Sri Lanka in the second Test. The win, sealed when Flintoff drove Muttiah Muralitharan straight down the ground for four, takes England into a 1-0 lead in the series, and ensures they travel to Nottingham for Friday's third Test with confidence high.

England have been the better side at both Lord's and Edgbaston but in each Test they have failed to hammer home an advantage gained during the opening two days of the match. In the first Test brave lower-order batting and dreadful catching allowed Sri Lanka to escape with an unexpected draw, but yesterday the tourists' last five batsmen were blown away in 30 minutes of hostile bowling for the addition of only 12 runs. The collapse left England requiring 78 for victory, a total that was reached with ease.

It was just as well for England that Flintoff and Liam Plunkett fired on the fourth morning of an intriguing match. Prior to the dismissal of Farveez Maharoof, who fended a vicious bouncer from Flintoff back to the bowler, Sri Lanka looked capable of stretching their lead to 150, a total that would have tested England's mettle.

As it was, the hosts were thankful to be chasing only a meagre target against a bowler of the quality of Muralitharan. The magician claimed all four England wickets in a wonderful spell. Marcus Trescothick and Kevin Pietersen were trapped plum in front by "doosras" and Paul Collingwood was caught behind attempting to force a ball through the off side.

Andrew Strauss had every right to consider himself unlucky when he was given out caught at slip after missing an attempted sweep shot. It would be wrong for England to complain when their batsmen have been given the benefit of the doubt against Muralitharan on a number of occasions.

Muralitharan's wickets gave him the 15th 10-wicket haul of his Test career, and as he twirled away at the City End he must have wondered what havoc he could have created had Sri Lanka doubled their lead. Figures of 10-115 normally win a match and the man-of-the match award, but those who witnessed Pietersen's brilliant 142 on Friday will agree that his display was the decisive one of the match.

Pietersen's remarkable batting in the last two Test matches will have increased the pressure placed on his broad shoulders. If it carries on for much longer crowds, who already stand up and cheer his arrival on the ground, will expect him to perform his pyrotechnics on every occasion he bats.

The entertainer in Pietersen means he will always try to oblige and, on many occasions, he may well succeed, but it is unrealistic to expect him to bat as he did at Edgbaston every time he takes guard.

Over-confidence caused his demise yesterday, and it is the only thing that may stop him becoming an England great. In the over Muralitharan trapped Pietersen, both players seemed intent on outwitting each other. Muralitharan was bowling leg-spinners whilst Pietersen attempted another reverse sweep, but on this occasion it was the bowler who claimed the plaudits.

Muralitharan celebrated as though he had won the Test when Aleem Dar raised his finger, but he knows Pietersen will be far more determined when the pair next meet at Trent Bridge in four days time.

After securing only one victory in eight Tests, this was a much needed win for England, but there were still several areas that will have disappointed the coach, Duncan Fletcher. England's catching was better than at Lord's but they still dropped too many chances.

Fletcher will also have been livid with the first innings batting collapse that saw his side lose five wickets for the addition of only five runs. It was during this 29-ball period that England allowed their opponents to get back into the match. Against Sri Lanka these mistakes can go unpunished, but against Australia in November such charity will lead to defeat.

There were also areas that would have given Fletcher cause for optimism. As a captain Flintoff had a far better game here. He used his bowlers intelligently and set good fields. It was surely not a matter of chance that the improvement coincided with the number of overs he bowled being reduced.

Pietersen's batting is improving all the time, but Fletcher already knew what a gifted cricketer he was. The most pleasing aspect of England's cricket was the performance of the bowlers, and in particular Plunkett.

Flintoff provided England with the breakthrough they needed after 55 minutes of Sri Lankan resistance, when the overnight lead of 40 had been extended to 65, but it was Plunkett who claimed three of five wickets to fall. Plunkett's ability as a swing bowler was recognised by Flintoff who placed the second new ball in the Durham seamer's hand. Chaminda Vaas became Plunkett's first victim when he cut a sharp catch to Collingwood in the gully, and the same fielder was involved the very next ball in the dismissal of Nuwan Kulasekara.

Lasith Malinga survived the hat-trick ball but he had only added two runs to his name when he edged Flintoff to Strauss at second slip. Whilst his team-mates made unwelcome journeys back to the pavilion Michael Vandort held firm and tried to eke out valuable runs.

Vandort completed a deserved second Test hundred when he pushed Flintoff into the covers for a single. His innings ended when he drove loosely at Plunkett and was caught behind. If a couple of his team-mates had shown similar resolve it could have been Sri Lanka rather than England who were celebrating last night.

Scoreboard from Edgbaston

Second npower Test

England v Sri Lanka

(Edgbaston, final day of five)

Sri Lanka won toss

Sri Lanka - First innings 141

Second innings

M G Vandort c Jones b Plunkett 105

398 mins, 303 balls, 9 fours

W U Tharanga c Jones b Hoggard 0

3 mins, 1 ball

ÝK C Sangakkara c Collingwood b Panesar 18

61 mins, 40 balls, 3 fours

*D P M D Jayawardene lbw b Hoggard 5

27 mins, 18 balls, 1 four

T T Samaraweera st Jones b Panesar 8

24 mins, 22 balls, 1 four

T M Dilshan lbw b Hoggard 59

180 mins, 113 balls, 8 fours

M F Maharoof c and b Flintoff 13

69 mins, 55 balls, 2 fours

W P U C J Vaas c Collingwood b Plunkett 1

12 mins, 10 balls

K M D N Kulasekara c Collingwood b Plunkett 0

1 min, 1 ball

S L Malinga c Strauss b Flintoff 2

7 mins, 6 balls

M Muralitharan not out 0

3 mins, 1 ball

Extras (b 0, lb 8, w 1, nb 11, pens 0) 20

Total (398 mins, 93.2 overs) 231

Fall: 1-2 (Tharanga), 2-38 (Sangakkara), 3-43 (Jayawardene), 4-56 Samaraweera), 5-181 (Dilshan), 6-219 (Maharoof), 7-223 (Vaas), 8-223 (Kulasekara), 9-231 (Malinga), 10-231 (Vandort).

Bowling: Hoggard 22-8-64-3 (nb5) (5-2-11-1 4-2-3-1 5-0-19-0 4-2-19-1 4-2-12-0); Flintoff 19-3-50-2 (nb4,w1) (2-1-2-0 2-0-9-0 6-1-13-0 3-0-10-0 3-1-6-0 3-0-10-2); Plunkett 13.2-6-17-3 (nb1) (7-4-10-0 6.2-2-7-3); Panesar 28-6-73-2 (13-3-39-2 8-0-29-0 7-3-5-0); Mahmood 9-2-19-0 (nb1) (4-2-3-0 5-0-16-0); Collingwood 2-2-0-0 (one spell).

Progress: Second day: 50 in 106 mins, 24.1 overs. Close 86-4 (Vandort 30, Dilshan 21) 40 overs. Third day: Rain delayed start until 4.44pm. 100 in 188 mins, 44.5 overs. 150 in 250 mins, 58.5 overs. Close 194-5 (Vandort 89, Maharoof 0) 74 overs. Fourth day: 200 in 331 mins, 79 overs. Innings closed 12.24pm. Vandort 50: 215 mins, 162 balls, 5 fours. 100: 380 mins, 294 balls, 8 fours. Dilshan 50: 143 mins, 87 balls, 7 fours.

England - First Innings 295

Second Innings

M E Trescothick lbw b Muralitharan 0

13 mins, 10 balls

A J Strauss c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 16

49 mins, 36 balls, 2 fours

A N Cook not out 34

99 mins, 85 balls, 4 fours

K P Pietersen lbw b Muralitharan 13

31 mins, 25 balls, 2 fours

P D Collingwood c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 3

24 mins, 11 balls

*A Flintoff not out 4

6 mins, 4 balls, 1 four

Extras (b 2, lb 0, w 0, nb 9, pens 0) 11

Total (for 4, 113 mins, 27.2 overs) 81

Fall: 1-9 (Trescothick), 2-35 (Strauss), 3-63 (Pietersen), 4-73 (Collingwood).

Bowling: Vaas 7-2-12-0 (nb2) (3-2-4-0 4-0-8-0), Malinga 7-1-29-0 (nb3) (1-0-5-0 6-1-24-0), Muralitharan 12.2-3-29-4 (nb4), Dilshan 1-0-9-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Fourth day: Lunch 21-1 (Strauss 11, Cook 10) 7 overs. 50 in 68 mins, 16.5 overs. England won at 3.07pm.

England won by 6 wickets

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and D B Hair (Aus).

TV replay umpire: I J Gould.

Match referee: A G Hurst.