England achieved a glorious draw in the shadow of the old fort at Galle yesterday. They must have felt as if they had got out of jail.
There were four overs and one wicket left of a spine-tingling contest in the First Test against Sri Lanka when the umpires decreed that the light was too poor to continue. They were given no argument by England's last two batsmen, Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard.
England, chasing a target of 323 which was quickly rendered academic, finished on 210 for 9 It was only the fourth time, and the first since the match against South Africa at Old Trafford in 1998, that they had drawn with only one wicket remaining.
Giles faced 110 deliveries as Sri Lanka, spearheaded as always by their remarkable spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, chipped inexorably away at England's batting. Hoggard somehow navigated his way round seven balls to prevent England going 1-0 down in the three-match series.
It was a collective performance to rank with any that England have managed, and showed that indifferent pitches can produce thrilling matches. England would concede that they had much the better of the debatable decisions - yesterday they survived five lbw verdicts which might have been given against them - but that did not erode their purposeful, jaw-jutting application.
The Galle surface was too slow, it turned from the first day, it started to show signs of wear and tear early and it was never to be trusted by batsmen. The tourists' captain, Michael Vaughan, said: "There were some fantastic performances throughout the team and I think we can be very proud to get the draw, considering that last time we played here we were hammered.
"To lose the toss on this pitch and then fight for five days is an exceptional effort. We came into the final day trying to be positive, but with Murali out there it could go bang, bang, bang pretty quickly."
Muralitharan took four wickets, making 11 in the Test, and he was made man of the match. But England kept him at bay for protracted periods as he frequently switched ends and the side of the wicket from which he bowled.
The pace of the pitch was probably not to his liking, but the amount of spin he gained in both directions was alarming for any batsman. His well-concealed leg- spinner, the wrong 'un or "doosra", is likely once more to provoke debate about his action.
England's batsmen merely got on with the job in hand. Only one of them, Mark Butcher, made a half-century. The debutant, Paul Collingwood, hardly put a foot wrong in a painstakingly crafted defensive innings spanning 153 balls. The tail wagged defiantly, if strokelessly, but when Gareth Batty's stoic occupation was ended by a huge heave which saw his middle stump knocked back, the game could have been up. But Giles, Richard Johnson and Hoggard were imperturbable.
They greeted each bowling change with another formidable forward defensive stroke. Galle Fort in its pomp would have been easier to get past. Giles ended on an unbeaten 17 for what was comfortably his most memorable Test innings. Together with his eight wickets, his display in the match was a considerable response to his critics. The Second Test begins in the hill country of Kandy on Wednesday. England have given themselves a wonderful opportunity.
- More about:
- Ashley Giles
- Higher Education
- Matthew Hoggard
- Michael Vaughan
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka