Why is it that a team can perform like hapless imposters one day and return as determined fighters the next? That must be one of the many questions whizzing through the mind of Michael Vaughan and Peter Moores, England's captain and coach, as they attempt to make sense of the last 48 hours.
Torrential rain and much improved batting here yesterday gave England a realistic chance of leaving Sri Lanka with a respectable 1-0 series defeat rather than the 2-0 thumping everyone feared. No play was possible after lunch on the fourth day of the third Test, by which time England had reached 102 for the loss of Vaughan, a score that still leaves them trailing Sri Lanka by 316 runs.
If the rain that is forecast fails to materialise this morning Vaughan's side will still need to bat well to save the Test, but in the 32 overs and five balls that were bowled yesterday it seemed that Sri Lanka were happy with their lot.
And in many ways that is all it takes for the momentum of a game to shift from one team to the other. On Thursday Sri Lanka were unstoppable. They were confident, energetic and alive. Everything they attempted came off and they could do no wrong. England in contrast could do nothing right and there was an air of inevitability about what was going to happen when Sri Lanka declared on 499-8. And when this is the case there is often very little that the team on the wrong side can do.
Sri Lanka, after bowling England out for 81, would have returned to Galle International Stadium yesterday morning nursing a hangover caused by a giddy and fruitful day, and they would have expected a similar passage of play to follow. Yet it rarely does. When a resolute and slightly embarrassed performer competes against one that is ever so slightly complacent, there is only one victor.
Vaughan and Alastair Cook began in confident style. There was the occasional play and miss, along with the odd thick but safe edge to the third-man boundary but their footwork was far more positive than on the previous day.
Chaminda Vaas still swung the new ball and bowled a testing line but Lasith Malinga, a fireball on Thursday, was a gear or two slower. Muttiah Muralitharan was brought on after 75 minutes of play but he too caused few alarms.
Chanaka Welegedara, on his debut, once again bowled well. The left-arm seamer has a slinky action, hits the seam of the ball regularly and looks set to be a like-for-like replacement for Vaas. Welegedara bowled a challenging line too, seaming the ball back in to Vaughan.
After Vaughan's misjudgement in the first innings, when he padded up to a ball that would have knocked middle stump out of the ground, it was inevitable that he may play at the occasional ball he should leave alone.
And it was one such stroke, a rather reckless drive at Welegedara, that sent an edge flashing towards second slip. Mahela Jayawardene, Vaughan's opposite number, made the sharp catch appear easy.
The England captain's head rocked back in disappointment on seeing the catch taken; for the fourth time in the series he had made a good start but failed to go on to post a big score.
As he walked back to the dressing room Vaughan removed his helmet and it revealed a weary man.
Playing cricket here is a tiring experience, especially when you are in charge of a team that has been able to put the opposition batsmen under only minimal pressure. Vaughan will get some time off but between Christmas and the New Year he will need to sit down with the selectors and discuss the squad he wishes to take to New Zealand in a month's time. Ian Bell joined Cook but on this occasion there were no running mix-ups. Cook played several sweet shots through the off-side, bringing a ninth half-century up off the 103rd ball he faced. It is the 11th fifty scored by an England batsman in the three-Test series and Cook will be hoping that there is enough play here today for him to become the first member of Vaughan's side to score a hundred on the tour.
Shot of the day
Not many candidates for this one, but Ian Bell played a fine shot off his back foot, pushing the ball through the covers for four.
Ball of the day
Chanaka Welegedara's ball to Michael Vaughan was going away from the batsman but was good enough for the England captain to edge it, his sliced drive finding the hands of Mahela Jayawardene at second slip.
Moment of the day
When the clouds from the east met the clouds from the west, directly above the stadium, to ensure a heavy storm that made England's task of salvaging a draw that much easier, the Sri Lankans strolled off; Alastair Cook and Ian Bell could not get off the field quick enough.
England won the toss and elected to field
Sri Lanka First Innings 499-8 dec
(M Jayawardene 213 no, Harmison 3-104)
England First Innings 81 (Vaas 4-28)
A N Cook not out......... 53
146 mins, 117 balls, 7 fours
*M P Vaughan c D Jayawardene b Welegedara......... 24
88 mins, 57 balls
I R Bell not out......... 17
57 mins, 35 balls, 1 four
Extras (b 2, nb 6) 8
Total (1 wkt, 33.5 overs)......... 102
Did not bat: K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, R S Bopara, +M J Prior, R J Sidebottom, S J Harmison, M J Hoggard, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Muralitharan 9-1-22-0, Vaas 9-2-30-0, Malinga 6.5-1-10-0, Welegedara 7-1-30-1, Dilshan 2-0-8-0.
Fourth day (9.30 start, min 98 overs): 50 in 64 mins, 14.5 overs. 100 in 140 mins, 32.1 overs.
Rain stopped play: 11.52am early lunch.
Cook 50: 126 mins, 103 balls, 7 fours.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) and D J Harper (Aus).
TV replay umpire: E A R de Silva.
Match referee: J J Crowe.Reuse content