The hill country is having quite a week. On Monday the celebrations began when Muttiah Muralitharan, the "King of Kandy", bowled Paul Collingwood to overtake Shane Warne and become the highest wicket-taker in the history of Test cricket, and they continued yesterday when another local boy, Kumar Sangakkara, placed his name in the record books by becoming the first batsman to post totals of 150 or more in four consecutive Tests.
Sangakkara's feat will not grab the same headlines as Muralitharan yet it is an outstanding performance from a magnificent cricketer who is playing at the peak of his game. His 152, beautifully compiled on a pitch where all other batsmen have found it difficult to time the ball, allowed Sri Lanka to declare on 442 for 8 in their second innings, a total that leaves England chasing a highly improbable 350 for victory.
Indeed, the only time he appeared flustered was when a swarm of bees flew across the ground, causing players and officials to suddenly fall prostrate on the ground.
An enthralling Test may yet produce one final sting, but batting out the last day and leaving Kandy with a draw is a more realistic goal for Michael Vaughan's side. That task was made harder as the shadows lengthened at the Asgiriya Stadium when Alastair Cook edged the fourth ball of England's reply to first slip. Vaughan and James Anderson survived four further overs before bad light ended play with England on 9 for 1, still requiring 341 to win.
England and Vaughan will draw confidence from their last appearance at this venue, when the captain scored a hundred and his side survived 140 overs in its fourth innings, but history is against them. Today they could face around 100 overs and England's highest successful run chase in Test cricket is 331.
Every Test team are crying out for an all-rounder, an Andrew Flintoff-type figure who fulfils two roles in the side, yet it is the decision of the Sri Lankans to forfeit Sangakkara's high-quality wicketkeeping for the sake of his batting that has brought out the best in him. Since handing over the gloves to Prasanna Jayawardene, an exciting young wicketkeeper-batsman, in July 2006, Sangakkara has scored 1,529 runs, including seven hundreds, in nine Tests at an remarkable average of 152.9.
These performances are not a one-off, those of a player in the middle of a golden streak. An inspection of Sangakkara's career highlights what a prolific run-scorer he is when he is not keeping. In the 22 Tests he has not kept wicket he averages an astonishing 96.4. In the 47 Tests where he has, it comes down to a still respectable 41.24.
For England's bowlers, at least those who took part in the home series against the West Indies last summer, there will be a feeling of djà vu. Then Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a left-hander with a similar crab-like technique, countered everything England bowled at him, amassing 446 runs in three Tests at an average of 148.6.
Chanderpaul is a fine player, but Sangakkara has the edge on him. He has a stronger technique and a slightly wider range of shots. Sangakkara's innings was littered with sumptuous drives, cuts and effortless clips of his legs, but it was the 30-year-old's driving off Monty Panesar that stood out. To strike a spinning ball that lands in footholes that sweetly takes an enormous amount of skill, as England's batsmen will find out when facing Murali today.
The fourth day began with England trailing by 74 runs and needing early wickets to claw their way back in to the match. But the breakthrough did not come. Matthew Hoggard, who left the field in the afternoon with a back complaint that could keep him out of the second Test, Ryan Sidebottom and James Anderson gave it their all but Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's two best batsmen, rarely looked troubled.
Sangakkara edged Anderson through a vacant third slip at a catchable height in the thirties, and Jayawardene nicked the same bowler between the keeper and slip on nine. But there were few other signs of encouragement. In the opening hour England conceded far too many boundaries: 48 of Sri Lanka's initial 60 runs came in fours.
With Sri Lanka's lead at 195, Jayawardene was caught down the leg side off the persevering Hoggard. The Sri Lankan captain was furious but as he walked back to the pavilion he knew that he had England where he wanted. Chamara Silva entertained with a breezy 37 whilst Sangakkara completed his 16th Test hundred. It was his first against England and it meant that he had now scored a century against each of the other nine Test-playing nations.
Silva became Panesar's first victim of the innings when he pushed forward and was given out lbw. The joy was tempered by the knowledge that if Asad Rauf continues to give such decisions England's batsmen could be in trouble. Jehan Mubarak and Lasith Malinga took Panesar's match tally to six as Sri Lanka chased quick runs but the tourists will be somewhat disappointed by the impact made by their premier spinner.
In the main, the hosts batsmen have played Panesar with relative ease here, but he is a young bowler and it is to be hoped that he learns from the experience.
Paul Collingwood had a belated bowl and picked up two wickets, including that of a weary Sangakkara who clipped a half volley straight to Vaughan at midwicket. Collingwood jumped for joy but it is hard to believe that Anderson and Sidebottom saw the funny side of it. In 48 overs of endeavour the pair were left to share one wicket and 193 runs. They deserved better.
Shot of the day
Where do you start with Kumar Sangakkara? His innings of 152 contained so many. The best, however, was an extra cover drive off Monty Panesar that raced away for four. Sangakkara advanced down the pitch and crunched the ball out of rough footholes for four. Awesome shot. How do they do it?
Ball of the day
Alastair Cook has had a Test match to forget yet there was little he could do about the ball from Chaminda Vaas that dismissed him here yesterday evening. It pitched just outside off stump, drew him in to the stroke, and then left him. The catch carried comfortably to first slip. It was the perfect way for a bowler to take a wicket.
Moment of the day
It has to be Sangakkara reaching 150. Wally Hammond, Donald Bradman, Zaheer Abbas and Mudassar Nazar each scored 150 or more in three consecutive Tests, but when Sangakkara pushed Paul Collingwood into the covers for a single he became the first man to do it on four occasions.
Scoreboard from Kandy
Fourth day; Sri Lanka won toss
Sri Lanka first innings
188 (K C Sangakkara 92, H A P W Jayawardene 51, M J Hoggard 4-29)
England first innings
281 (I R Bell 83, M Muralitharan 6-55)
Sri Lanka second innings
(0vernight 167-2; Jayasuriya 78)
K C Sangakkara c Vaughan
b Collingwood 152
398 mins, 269 balls, 19 fours, 1 five
*D P M D Jayawardene c Prior
b Hoggard 65
148 mins, 108 balls, 9 fours
L P C Silva lbw b Panesar 37
74 mins, 48 balls, 7 fours
J Mubarak c sub (G P Swann)
b Panesar 9
36 mins, 32 balls, 2 fours
†H A P W Jayawardene b Collingwood (TV replay) 20
52 mins, 46 balls, 2 fours
W P U C J Vaas not out 6
30 mins, 17 balls
S L Malinga b Panesar 2
5 mins, 2 balls
C R D Fernando not out 9
14 mins, 9 balls
Extras (b5, lb10) 15
Total (8 wkts dec, 565min, 130 overs) 442
Fall: 1-113 (Jayasuriya), 2-166 (Vandort), 3-288 (DPMD Jayawardene), 4-359 (Silva), 5-387 (Mubarak), 6-423 (HAPW Jayawardene), 7-426 (Sangakkara), 8-429 (Malinga).
Did not bat: M Muralitharan.
Bowling: Hoggard 18-5-55-2 (6-2-15-0 5-1-13-1 4-1-18-0 3-1-9-1), Sidebottom 25-5-65-0 (5-1-10-0 2-0-5-0 4-1-7-0 7-3-16-0 5-0-18-0 2-0-9-0), Panesar 45-5-132-3 (17-1-52-0 1-0-1-0 8-1-23-0 2-0-9-0 17-3-47-3), Anderson 23-4-128-1 (6-2-36-0 9-2-40-1 4-0-23-0 4-0-29-0), Bopara 8-3-16-0 (3-1-4-0 5-2-12-0), Vaughan 3-0-6-0, Collingwood 8-0-25-2 (one spell each).
England 2nd innings
A N Cook c Silva b Vaas 4
2 mins, 4 balls, 1 four
*M P Vaughan not out 1
19 mins, 16 balls
J M Anderson not out 4
16 mins, 10 balls
Total (1 wkt, 19min, 5 overs) 9
Fall: 1-4 (Cook).
To bat: I R Bell, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, R S Bopara, †M J Prior, R J Sidebottom, M J Hoggard, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Vaas 2-0-7-1, Malinga 1-1-0-0, Muralitharan 1-0-2-0, Jayasuriya 1-1-0-0 (one spell each).
Close of play:
Day 1 England 1st innings 49/1 (MP Vaughan 13*, IR Bell 36*, 17 ov)
Day 2 England 1st innings 186/6 (PD Collingwood 14*, RJ Sidebottom 1*, 63 ov)
Day 3 Sri Lanka 2nd innings 167/2 (KC Sangakkara 30*, DPMD Jayawardene 0*, 52 ov)
Umpires: Asad Rauf and Aleem Dar
TV replay umpire: T H Wijewardene
Match referee: J J Crowe
Second Test: Colombo, 9-13 December
Third Test: Galle, 18-22 DecemberReuse content