Sri Lanka show there is fight after Muralitharan

Malinga and co rise to challenge of living with the legend
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The Independent Online

Bone dry, slow pitch, getting rough, taking some turn. Hot sun, light breeze. Trent Bridge yesterday was as close as the Sri Lankans will get here to feeling at home, and they responded with the best cricket they have played this summer. Imaginative field setting; a four-man bowling attack. This is no longer a one man-band.

Tom Moody, Sri Lanka's Australian coach, finally looked pleased: "A good team effort," he said. Muttiah Muralitharan did take three wickets (for 62), but Sanath Jayasuriya, Chaminda Vaas and Malinga the Slinga took two each. The slim, dashing wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara stood up to Vaas, and England finally paid the price for over-confidence.

Sri Lanka have been easy to under-rate, even after a stubborn refusal to bow the knee in the second innings at Lord's. At Edgbaston, Murali took 10 of the 14 English wickets to fall, and the conclusion was that if England could survive the literally incomparable Murali, they would coast to the series victory. But this was to ignore exuberance and experience.

Lasith Malinga, aged 22, has improved with every spell he has bowled this tour, and Jayasuriya, who will be 37 later this month, was out of touch with the bat but he has forgotten nothing as the team's second spinner.

A 90mph delivery from Malinga flew off a thick edge of Alastair Cook's bat to dismiss him for 24 and ended a passage of play in which the normally imperturbable young man looked distinctly perturbed. A Malinga bouncer passed so close to Paul Collingwood's nose that he fell backwards on to his bottom, and shifted it desperately to avoid his wicket.

Watching Malinga bowl is like being in a time machine. The slingy, round-arm action is the way cricketers bowled until 1864, when overarm bowling was legitimised. Malinga is living proof that old-style round-arm bowling could be very effective. "He's wild and wonderful, but he's not going to get his wicket by line and length" said Moody.

So too can Jayasuriya. It is easy to forget that he now has 94 Test wickets at a little over 31, an average that will have been improved by his analysis of 2 for 19 off 11 overs. He suckered Andrew Flintoff into edging a careless swipe off the back foot to Mahela Jayawardene at first slip. The ball turns only just enough; the Jayasuriya style is guile. Later it undid Liam Plunkett, who is overparted batting at No 8.

Jayawardene's role in the Sri Lankan revival yesterday was to captain the side with ingenuity and enthusiasm - two gullies early in the day for Malinga, two short square-legs for Murali, encouraging Sangakkara to stand up to Vaas. "I thought Mahela led the side superbly today," said Moody, who explained that new field settings were principally to combat Kevin Pietersen.

Sangakkara is the second world-class act in the Sri Lankan team. He comes 13th in the ICC world batting rankings, between Virender Sehwag and Stephen Fleming, and he was unlucky to be a victim of one of Darrell Hair's inexplicable decisions when he was given out lbw for 36 in the first innings, bringing to an end the most promising Sri Lankan stand at the top of the order in any of their first innings in this series.

A 27-year-old law student, Sangakkara is fluent, charming and handsome. He had attracted attention on his first tour of England when he confessed that his favourite author was Oscar Wilde. Asked what he is reading now, he replied: "Absolutely nothing." (There is a rumour that he is reading Aesop's Fables; maybe he thinks his intelligence distorts his image.)

But think on this. If Sri Lanka do win this Test and draw the series, Muralitharan's most significant contribution - even if he does manage yet another five-for in England's second innings, may turn out to have been his deliciously eccentric but effective contribution of 33 to Sri Lanka's last wicket stand of 62.

And the chances of a win? Moody speaks of new confidence: "If we're still batting at the end of the day, we'll feel comfortable. We're in the driving seat," he said.