A vignette of play yesterday highlighted the huge gulf that now exists between these two sides. It was not the sight of Mahela Jayawardene raising his bat to acknowledge a fourth double century, nor the vision of Kevin Pietersen fending at a frighteningly fast short ball from Lasith Malinga and gloving a catch through to the Sri Lankan wicketkeeper. It was not even the view of England following on after being bowled out for a pathetic 81 in their first innings.
No, it was the image of Tillakaratne Dilshan swooping from cover point, picking the ball up cleanly and throwing down the stumps at the bowler's end following a mix-up between Alastair Cook and Ian Bell. For 149 overs England had lumbered in the field, dropping catches, bowling with indiscipline and at times looking totally disinterested in the game they were playing.
It is easier to look energetic and sharp when you have contributed 84 towards your team's total of 499 for 8 declared on an uncertain pitch, but Dilshan, in that single graceful moment was everything England were not. He was alert, fast, athletic, ruthless and precise. Exit Bell.
The sight of one beleaguered England batsmen trooping to the pavilion after another brought back memories of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, in 1994 when Michael Atherton's side were bowled out for 46 by a West Indies side inspired by Curtly Ambrose.
England passed that inglorious landmark yesterday the team's second lowest innings total when Paul Collingwood squirted a thick edge through the gully region for four, but he could not save his side from their lowest total against Sri Lanka and the 18th smallest ever.
Since the start of this third Test, bitter and twisted former bowlers have insisted that there would be assistance for a fullish length aimed at the stumps. The scoreboard, as Sri Lanka amassed an enormous total, suggested otherwise but that was because England's bowlers failed to bowl with the consistency and discipline required, and the fielders took only a fraction of their opportunities.
Sri Lanka, alas, led by the admirable Chaminda Vaas, probed away ball after ball after ball, knowing that sooner or later something would happen and when it did they would exploit it.
In recent times it is hard to think of an England team who have had a worse day. It began with an early dropped catch and ended with a resigned Michael Vaughan and Cook accepting the offer of bad light.
In between, Jayawardene continued to show his class. The Sri Lankan captain benefited from another shoddy piece of glovework by Matt Prior when he had added just five runs to his overnight score of 149. Ryan Sidebottom was once again the unlucky bowler and the miss set the tone for the remainder of the innings. Vaas clubbed his way to 90, carving Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard back over their heads for four, and driving Sidebottom sweetly to the extra cover boundary.
Jayawardene, so watchful and precise for much of the previous two days decided to have some fun, too, in the process showing everyone that he is not a one-dimensional player. Monty Panesar's two overs were smashed for 18 runs and his double hundred was brought up with a sumptuous drive at Harmison that flew over extra cover for four. Jayawardene declared 50 minutes before lunch when Malinga was bowled, slogging at Collingwood.
Tired minds and weary bodies make mistakes when instant decisions have to be made and this scenario accounted for England's initial two wickets. Vaughan, believing that a delivery from Vaas would go straight on, padded up to an inswinger and was as plumb as plumb could be. When the ball hit the pitch he would have known he was doomed, giving umpire Asad Rauf one of the easiest decisions of his career.
Cook was the next to err, calling Bell for a single without realising the capabilities of the fielder and then sending him back. Bell knew he was run out as he dusted himself down, swishing angrily at the ground when the third umpires confirmed it.
Cook was adjudged to have edged a leg-cutter from Vaas to the keeper, but it was Pietersen's dismissal that provided an exhilarating passage of play. As a fast bowler Malinga is seriously quick. He enjoys the limelight and bowling at the best batsmen, so Pietersen was just the man for him.
The sight of Malinga roaring in and bowling frighteningly fast brought back memories of Australia's Jeff Thomson in his heyday. And Pietersen copped the best of it. Pietersen tried to hook the first ball of Malinga's fourth over but it was past him in a flash. The second ball was short and fast, too, but he left it alone. The next ball was an absolute ripper, rearing off a length and flying at Pietersen's throat. In an attempt to avoid a painful blow, his head rocked back and, flinching, he reacted to the ball with his hands. It flicked a glove and flew through to the keeper who took an athletic catch above his head, much to the delight of another large crowd.
The lunch interval saved England from further torment, albeit briefly. Upon the resumption Ravi Bopara lazily chipped a catch to mid-on and Prior was bowled by a delivery that kept low. Heavens knows what the scenes were like in the England dressing room, but the sight of Panesar getting his pads on in the 12th over of an innings tells you you are in serious trouble.
Collingwood and Sidebottom doubled the score before falling in consecutive overs. Sidebottom gave a simple bat-pad catch to short leg and Collingwood was bowled by Chanaka Welegedara to give him his first Test wicket. Hoggard became his second four balls later and the innings ended farcically with another abysmal piece of running between the wickets.
Third day: England won the toss and elected to field
Sri Lanka First Innings
*D P M D Jayawardene not out 213
612 min, 411 balls, 25 fours
L P C Silva c Bell b Harmison 1
37 min, 26 balls
W P U C J Vaas c Vaughan b Hoggard 90
199 min, 133 balls, 11 fours
S L Malinga b Collingwood 5
26 min, 16 balls, 1 four
Extras (b 1, lb 14, w 8, nb 3) 26
Total (8 wkts dec, 148.5 overs) 499 (686 min)
Fall: 1-34, 2-44, 3-132, 4-138, 5-287, 6-287, 7-470 , 8-499.
Did not bat: U W M B C A Welegedara, M Muralitharan.
Bowling: Sidebottom 34-8-95-1; Hoggard 32-4-121-1; Harmison 34-4-104-3; Panesar 26-3-76-0; Bopara 10-1-39-1; Collingwood 9.5-2-38-1; Pietersen 3-0-11-0.
England - First Innings
A N Cook c H Jay'dene b Vaas 13
33 min, 27 balls, 3 fours
*M P Vaughan lbw b Vaas 1
9 min, 4 balls
I R Bell run out 1
8 min, 6 balls
K P Pietersen c H Jay'dene b Malinga 1
17 min, 10 balls
P D Collingwood b Welegedara 29
96 min, 48 balls, 4 fours
R S Bopara c Welegedara b Vaas 0
7 min, 7 balls
+M J Prior b Vaas 4
8 min, 6 balls, 1 four
R J Sidebottom c Dilshan b Mu'aran 11
73 min, 70 balls, 1 four
S J Harmison not out 9
18 min, 9 balls, 1 four
M J Hoggard c D Jay'dene b Wel'dara 0
4 min, 4 balls
M S Panesar run out 0
10 min, 2 balls
Extras (b 4, nb 8) 12
Total (146 mins, 30.5 overs) 81
Fall: 1-5, 2-9, 3-22, 4-22, 5-25, 6-33, 7-70 , 8-72, 9-72, 10-81.
Bowling: Vaas 9.5-2-28-4; Malinga 9-2-26-1; Welegedara 8-1-17-2; Muralitharan 4-2-6-1.
England Second Innings
A N Cook not out 1
4 min, 5 balls
*M P Vaughan not out 1
4 min, 1 ball
Total (0 wkt, 4 mins, 1 over) 2
Bowling: Muralitharan 1-0-2-0.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) and D J Harper (Aus)
TV replay umpire: E A R de Silva.
Match referee: J J Crowe.Reuse content