Tourists hang on as England allow match to slip from grasp

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The Independent Online

This has not been a match noted for forecasts. Predictions of an England victory before Sunday was over were almost as wild as the Met Office's warnings of a weekend wash-out.

Even the sponsors' vision was clouded, with man-of-the-match ballot forms handed out to journalists early on Sunday afternoon and an England player being the anticipated nominee. Ultimately the award went to Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene.

As for the weather, the blackest clouds hovered over the England balcony as victory wriggled from the players' collective grasp.

True there was a delayed start yesterday because of morning rain, and there were also stoppages for bad light, but in general the weather has not robbed England of too much valuable time, so perhaps someone might find a better use for the millions of pounds of Met Office high-tech equipment.

In the end it boiled down to some obdurate batting by Sri Lanka - their batsmen occupied the crease for the best part of 15 hours in their second innings as they turned a first-innings deficit of 359 runs into a 178-run advantage - and some lacklustre bowling at times by England, as well as slack fielding which saw the opening Test of this series turn into a gritty draw.

There is clearly nothing so stubborn as a Sri Lanka team forced to follow-on. The tourists were like barnacles on the hull of a ship in dry dock, and England had the Devil's own job trying to remove them.

At least the sparse final-day crowd tried to get behind their heroes, even if it was with a soccer-style chant. Cries of "Inger-land, Inger-land, Inger-land" echoed around the near empty ground. But there was something rather futile in the urgings. The Sri Lanka tail-enders and the benign pitch conspired to frustrate Andrew Flintoff and his men at every turn.

The last time England put down a clutch of catches was against Australia at the same venue last season. On that occasion they spilled seven chances and lost the match, at least this time around they can argue that they put down nine (the last a difficult one to Paul Collingwood in the gully when Chaminda Vaas was on 42) and managed to emerge without defeat, but the moral victory has to belong to Sri Lanka. The six second-innings catches cost England 181 runs.

The only relief for home fans on a tedious and frustrating day came in the person of Tommy Simsek, Sri Lanka's eccentric physiotherapist, who has quickly endeared himself to the Lord's crowds.

Each time his services have been required by one or other of the Sri Lankan players, he has sprinted on the field and once his task has been completed he has sprinted off. The 100 metres record could well have fallen half a dozen times in this match, unfortunately everyone was laughing too much to time him.

He was not quite as quick as England batsman Kevin Pietersen as it turned out. After last man Muttiah Muralitharan had received treatment, having been hit on the hand by an Andrew Flintoff delivery which prompted the umpires to take the players off for bad light for the third time in the day, Pietersen tore after - and overtook - Simsek just before the pavilion steps.

It was the most explosive burst of energy there had been by any England player all day. And it also put a smile on the faces of the 3,000 or so who had braved the overcast conditions to witness the England hopes being ground into the St John's Wood turf.

Moment of the day

The young athletic Sri Lankan physio-therapist has a party trick that involves sprinting to and from the middle to treat players. After treating Muttiah Muralitharan he set off back to the Pavilion but was beaten by Kevin Pietersen, who had a 10-yard head start.

Shot of the day

Nuwan Kulasekera played many memorable shots during his defiant 64 but the best two were played off Monty Panesar, who he slogged/swept twice into the Tavern Stand. The second of these was extra special, taking him to a maiden Test 50.

Ball of the day

Liam Plunkett continued to bowl well on the final day and he finally received some reward when he dismissed Tillekeratne Dilshan. The ball bounced, found the outside edge of the right-hander's bat and carried to first slip - a perfect wicket for a bowler.