Thorpe and Butcher set England on path to parity

Sri Lanka 331 England 97-2
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The only surprise for England on the second day of the first Test here was that it took the Sri Lanka captain 12 overs to introduce his star bowler into the attack. By this time Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick had made the most of Hashan Tillakaratne's generosity and scored 53 vital runs.

Once given the ball, it did not take long for Muttiah Muralitharan to show why he should have been tormenting England's batsmen earlier. Vaughan was fortunate to survive an lbw shout against Murali's eighth ball but in his next over the world's leading spinner turned one past the outside edge of Trescothick's bat and won an unconvincing appeal for caught behind.

The England captain failed to make the most of his escape and was bowled through his legs four overs later when he padded up to a vicious off-break. In seven overs of mesmeric spin bowling Muralitharan had dismissed both England openers and changed the course of the game.

With two new batsmen at the crease, and Muralitharan turning the ball both ways, the 65 runs England still required to avoid the follow-on target of 132 appeared as far away as the sun setting on the Indian Ocean.

To begin with, Mark Butcher looked as though he could be out to any ball tossed down at him but Graham Thorpe showed just why England's selectors were so keen to pick him for this tour. Occupying the crease was tough and scoring runs a bonus but the pair battled on and saw England through to the close. When bad light stopped play 15 minutes before the scheduled close, England had progressed to 97 for 2, still 234 runs behind Sri Lanka's first-innings score.

For the second day in a row England could be pretty pleased with what they achieved. After losing an important toss Vaughan's team have competed hard with bat and ball. There were a couple of occasions - with Sri Lanka 132 for 4 and then 239 for 7 - when England would have hoped for more but overall it was an admirable performance to bowl the home side out for 331.

His team need to play cricket of a similar standard over the next three days if they wish to avoid defeat, which highlights just how difficult it is to play here. Whether England can reach a position of parity will depend largely on Butcher and Thorpe, their two most experienced batsmen. The Surrey pair have shown in the past they are capable of keeping Murali out for long periods and it is their task to take England as close as they can to the Sri Lankan total.

In Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff and Chris Read England have competent batsmen but it will be difficult for them to play their natural game on a pitch offering excessive turn and with fielders constantly round the bat. If Butcher or Thorpe can cajole these players through, England have an outside chance of putting Sri Lanka under pressure when they bat again. But if they do not it will be unbelievably difficult for the side batting last to chase anything over 250.

The tourists' day could have been better but for an entertaining last-wicket stand of 40 between Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas. With a batting average of 11.8, Muralitharan is a ferret - he goes in after the rabbits. However, it was refreshing to see a tail-ender having a good old-fashioned slog, even if he was using a bat given to him by Flintoff last summer.

Vaughan could be criticised for delaying the introduction of a fast bowler when Murali was in full flow but Flintoff also disappeared to the boundary when a couple of short balls were top-edged over the wicketkeeper for four. In an effort to combat this Vaughan placed a fielder 30 yards directly behind the keeper - not a position I have seen used before, and it did not work. Ashley Giles ended Murali's 37-ball innings when he edged a cut for Read's fourth catch of an excellent display behind the stumps.

England had had to wait 24 overs before taking the fifth Sri Lankan wicket, which came when Richard Johnson swung his first delivery with the second new ball through the defence of Kumar Sangakkara. Until then the elegant left-hander had looked in no trouble against an attack that was quickly running out of options.

Thilan Samaraweera then edged a wild cut through to the keeper and Upul Chandana was adjudged lbw. Both wickets fell to Flintoff but nobody could begrudge the Lancashire all-rounder his good fortune. Once again he was the pick of England's seamers; he deserves plenty more wickets like this before he gets what his efforts in the last six months deserve.

"Sri Lanka probably scored 20 or 30 more than we expected," Flintoff said. "But it was still a good effort to limit them to that. You have to allow for batsmen playing well, and they have some top batsmen in their side. Murali came off for them but that wasn't any fault of the bowlers."

However, there were words of warning from Sri Lanka's top-scorer and wicketkeeper. "Murali is not yet at his best," Sangakkara said. "The more he bowls the better he gets, and I think we will see the best of him tomorrow [today]."


Sri Lanka won the toss

SRI LANKA - First innings

M S Atapattu c Read b Flintoff 29

156 min, 99 balls, 4 fours

S T Jayasuriya c Collingwood b Giles 48

131 min, 110 balls, 8 fours

ÝK C Sangakkara lbw b Johnson 71

209 min, 142 balls, 9 fours, 1 six

D P M D Jayawardene c Collingwood b Giles 17

64 min, 42 balls, 2 fours

*H P Tillakaratne c Read b Giles 0

16 min, 14 balls

T T Samaraweera c Read b Flintoff 45

146 min, 113 balls, 6 fours

U D U Chandana lbw b Flintoff 21

50 min, 41 balls, 4 fours

H D P K Dharmasena lbw b Batty 27

74 min, 69 balls, 2 fours

W P U J C Vaas not out 22

132 min, 80 balls, 3 fours

K A D M Fernando c Collingwood

b Batty 4

18 min, 21 balls, 1 four

M Muralitharan c Read b Giles 38

41 min, 37 balls, 4 fours, 1 six

Extras (b5, lb2, w1, nb1) 9

Total (127.5 overs, 525 min) 331

Fall: 1-76 (Jayasuriya), 2-88 (Atapattu), 3-132 (Jayawardene), 4-132 (Tillakaratne), 5-202 (Sangakkara), 6-238 (Samaraweera), 7-239 (Chandana), 8-279 (Dharmasena), 9-291 (Fernando), 10-331 (Muralitharan).

Bowling: Hoggard 20-4-49-0 (6-1-15-0 3-1-7-0 3-1-10-0 4-1-10-0 4-0-7-0), Johnson 17-5-54-1 (w1) (6-2-16-0 4-2-6-0 2-0-11-0 5-1-21-1), Flintoff 23-7-42-3 (5-3-5-0 5-0-11-1 3-1-9-0 7-2-7-2 3-1-10-0), Collingwood 4-0-12-0 (nb1) (2-0-9-0 2-0-3-0), Batty 31-5-98-2 (6-1-21-0 8-3-12-0 6-1-23-0 11-0-42-2), Giles 32.5-9-69-4 (5-0-12-1 16-7-29-2 4-1-15-0 5-0-10-0 2.5-1-3-1).

Progress: First day: Wet outfield delayed start until 11am. Lunch 46-0 (Atapattu 18, Jayasuriya 26) 21 overs. 50 in 95 min, 22.1 overs. Rain stopped play 2.10-4.20pm - tea taken 83-1 (Atapattu 28, Sangakkara 4) 34.4 overs. 100 in 171 min, 39.3 overs. Bad light stopped play 6.04pm - close 138-4 (Sangakkara 39, Samaraweera 1) 60 overs. Second day: (min 105 overs) 150 in 265 min, 63.1 overs. 200 in 331 min, 81.1 overs. New ball taken after 82.2 overs at 202-4. Lunch 240-7 (Dharmasena 0, Vaas 1) 96 overs. 250 in 413 min, 99.2 overs. 300 in 494 min, 119.5 overs. Innings closed 3.15pm - tea taken.

Sangakkara 50: 152 min, 102 balls, 6 fours, 1 six.

ENGLAND - First Innings

M E Trescothick c Sangakkara

b Muralitharan 23

67 min, 62 balls, 4 fours

*M P Vaughan b Muralitharan 24

91 min, 65 balls, 4 fours

M A Butcher not out 15

65 min, 55 balls, 2 fours

G P Thorpe not out 20

41 min, 46 balls, 2 fours

Extras (b4, lb5, nb6) 15

Total (2 wkts, 37 overs, 133 min) 97

Fall: 1-56 (Trescothick), 2-67 (Vaughan).

To bat: P D Collingwood A Flintoff, ÝC M W Read, G J Batty, A F Giles, R L Johnson, M J Hoggard.

Bowling: Vaas 6-1-14-0 (nb4), Fernando 3-1-21-0 (nb1) (one spell each), Dharmasena 11-3-20-0 (nb1) (7-2-15-0 4-1-5-0), Muralitharan 10-5-15-2 (9-4-15-2 1-1-0-0), Chandana 7-1-18-0 (3-1-5-0 4-0-13-0).

Progress: Second day: 50 in 52 min, 11.2 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.48pm.

Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and S Venkataraghavan (India).

TV Replay Umpire: M G Silva (S Lanka).

Match Referee: C H Lloyd (W Indies).