First morning, first Test, first innings, Sri Lanka 42 for 5, England cockahoop. Fifth evening, fourth innings England 261 all out, Sri Lanka jubilant and victors by 88 runs. So where did it all go wrong for the tourists? "There is always a turning point and I'm trying to work out where it was," said England captain Michael Vaughan. "Maybe we did not get enough runs in that first innings."
England managed to fashion a lead of 93, for which they were grateful in one sense after being 185 for 6, but rueful after Vaughan and Ian Bell had assembled what the captain called "a real good partnership".
"Thinking about it Murali bowled very, very well but a 150-run lead would probably have been a par score," Vaughan said. "When Sri Lanka were 42 for 5 I thought we were going to go through them but sometimes you have to hold your hand up. Kumar Sangakkara played a tremendous knock to get them to 188 and in the second innings took the game away from where we wanted to be."
Instead of a push for victory, England were left to struggle for a draw, which had seemed possible at the start of the last day, improbable when they shed wickets quickly in the morning, likely when Bell and Matt Prior staged a vigilant recovery, fanciful when Murali struck with the new ball to remove them both and a pipe dream when Ryan Sidebottom was wrongly given out leg before off an inside edge.
"The Bell-Prior partnership was exceptional," Vaughan said. "When we were six down half an hour after lunch realistically we were looking at losing the Test by mid-afternoon. But their partnership is probably a real confidence booster to take to Colombo because of the way they played Murali in the last innings and the way they played the reversing ball. I asked the players this morning to show a lot of character and those two had that in abundance."
Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, was relieved as much as pleased. Sri Lanka lost badly, 2-0 to Australia last month and clawed themselves back into this match. "To get those early wickets was very important and the fast bowlers bowled brilliantly," he said. "We then had to be patient. Murali came to the party pretty late but made a big impact with those two quick wickets."
Both captains were phlegmatic about the lbw decision which cost England their final chance when Sidebottom was given out despite edging the ball on to his pads. "They go your way sometimes," Vaughan said. "Both umpires made really good decisions throughout the match, it's how the game goes," Jayawardene said.
England might have deserved a draw but the better side won. "I can't really ask any more from the players in terms of character and fight, just a bit more expertise I guess," Vaughan added.
The second Test begins on Sunday in Colombo and the match referee, Jeff Crowe, is asking both sides to bring the start time forward to 10am to avoid early finishes for bad light.