The first Test series of the summer was decided by two hours of Sri Lankan batting madness in Cardiff. As England left the country's newest Test ground last night, they were left to reflect that India might not be so obliging in the second.
If Sri Lanka had batted in the opening match with a smidgeon of the guts, guile and grace they demonstrated yesterday on the final day of the third, it all would have ended in a 0-0 draw. As it is, having taken the lead by bowling out their opponents in 23.4 overs, England were destined to win the rubber.
Although they have been the better team, bad weather played an influential role in all three matches. The wreckage of the first two days at the Rose Bowl and the loss of 184 overs in the match always made another draw, following a similar outcome at Lord's, the likely result. But Sri Lanka batted with huge aplomb to ensure that another match did not slip away. The poor record in England of Kumar Sangakkara has long been inexplicable, but he rectified it in possibly his last Test innings on these shores with a handsome innings of assured self-denial.
His 119 from 249 balls contained some instinctive, well-appointed cover and straight driving but it was perhaps more memorable for his determined leaving of the ball outside off stump. Sri Lanka's acting captain was not to be suckered in chasing a wide one, though it wasn't for the want of trying.
Andrew Strauss, England's captain, said: "We got ourselves into a position to go on and win. Sri Lanka batted well but we were a little bit frustrated."
There was one other unwanted concern for England. Stuart Broad, who is due to lead England in his first match as the new Twenty20 captain in Bristol on Saturday, has a bruised left heel. Although he bowled yesterday, he moved gingerly and was also off the field in the latter stages.
The day dawned dry if not bright and England were still 81 ahead and needed seven more wickets. By the time the rain eventually arrived during the tea interval only two more wickets had fallen and the tourists were 141 ahead. Rangana Herath, the nightwatchman, had played his part to perfection and Thilan Samaraweera, another who has not found English conditions to his liking, looked as though he would never be dismissed again.
The fact that the weather so distorted the course of the match should not preclude questions about the balance of England's team. In the second innings at Lord's they took three Sri Lankan wickets in 43 overs, at the Rose Bowl they managed five in 104 on a surface that was much more encouraging.
Perhaps a fifth bowler would not have made the difference but in the second half of this summer England will come up against India, whose batting order reads like a list of legends from Virender Sehwag, via Sachin Tendulkar to VVS Laxman, which is to overlook Rahul Dravid and Gautam Gambhir.
To dismiss that lot twice, England will need to be at their peak. This has not been the case throughout this series. The bowlers did not make Sri Lanka's batsman play enough yesterday morning and they will cling to the belief that four bowlers has worked for them lately but that demands the involvement of all. Broad has failed to allay the feeling that he is not taking enough wickets.
The England of the winter would not have spurned the catches that the England of the summer are doing. Following four missed chances in Cardiff and two at Lord's there were another two on Sunday night and one yesterday when Herath edged high to slip. The ball burst out of Strauss's outstretched hands as Graeme Swann, at second slip, cut across his line of vision.
Herath added another 31 crucial runs before he was leg before sweeping Swann but by the time Sangakkara was undone by Jimmy Anderson's slower ball the draw was all but secure. The match was a triumph of sorts for the Rose Bowl and despite the rain the Hampshire chairman, Rod Bransgrove, expects either a small profit or loss.
"We certainly want more Tests here," he said. "I was pretty uptight in the days leading up to the game and my driver will confirm that. He must have been sacked at least three times."
Rose Bowl scorecard
Third Test (fifth day of five): England drew with Sri Lanka
England won toss
SRI LANKA First Innings 184 (Tremlett 6-48)
ENGLAND First Innings 377-8 dec (Bell 119no, Pietersen 85, Morgan 71, Cook 55)
SRI LANKA Second Innings (overnight 112-3)
*K C Sangakkara c Sub b Anderson 119
249 balls 0 sixes 16 fours
H M R K B Herath lbw b Swann 36
72 balls 0 sixes 4 fours
T T Samaraweera not out 87
128 balls 0 sixes 9 fours
†H A P W Jayawardene not out 6
6 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
Extras (b16 lb9 w1 nb6) 32
Total (for 5, 104 overs) 334
Fall: 1-25, 2-86, 3-110, 4-185, 5-326.
Did not bat: N L T C Perera, U W M B C A Welegedara, C R D Fernando, R A S Lakmal.
Bowling: J M Anderson 30-9-81-2 (1wd) (9-4-15-1; 8-3-21-0; 4-1-13-0; 6-2-18-0; 3-0-14-1), C T Tremlett 21-5-66-1 (3nb) (8-3-25-0; 5-1-9-1; 4-1-13-0; 4-0-19-0), S C J Broad 18-4-51-1 (1nb) (8-2-16-0; 3-1-6-1; 3-1-12-0; 4-0-17-0), G P Swann 25-6-57-1 (10-3-16-0; 7-2-14-1; 3-1-9-0; 5-1-18-0), K P Pietersen 7-1-30-0 (3-1-8-0; 3-0-12-0; 1-0-10-0), I J L Trott 3-0-24-0 (2-0-23-0; 1-0-1-0).
Umpires Aleem Dar (Pak) & R J Tucker (Aus).
3rd Umpire B R Doctrove (WI).
Match Referee A G Hurst (Aus).
England win three-match series 1-0
Snakes & Ladders
England have fixed their sights on becoming the world's No 1 Test team. There will be ups and downs. Or snakes and ladders.
Down: A dropped catch, a missed run-out – standards slipped when England needed a quick breakthrough yesterday and the Test dribbled to a draw.
State of play on the snakes and ladder board: As you were England, beating Sri Lanka 1-0 is handy but it keeps them in third place. Bring on the leaders India.Reuse content