'We expected to win and at this stage losing hurts more than the ankle'

In the end it was the one that got away, and the England captain Andrew Flintoff, hampered for much of the match by his ankle problem, admitted as much.

"It was a series that ran away from us a little bit in the end. A series of missed opportunities. The dropped catches at Lord's and not scoring enough runs in the first innings here did not help. We expected to win. We got into some great positions and at this stage losing the game hurts more than the ankle."

England did have to contend with the Muttiah Muralitharan and Flintoff acknowledged this. "We were in this game for periods. We started well this morning, and at lunchtime it was looking quite nice for us and Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss managed to put on a few more afterwards.

"But the fourth day on this pitch was always going to be tough chasing 320- odd with the likes of Murali bowling on it. The thing about facing Murali is when you first go in it is tough, although if you can get through the first 10 or 15 minutes it gets slightly easier."

As for comparing Murali with Australia's Shane Warne all Flintoff would say was: "To say which one I struggle with more is difficult, they are world-class bowlers and hard to face. It's not just the amount of spin they put on the ball and they can both spin it both ways, it is the accuracy and each ball is a wicket-taking delivery."

But Flintoff refused to accept that it was a one-man show. "It wasn't a case of playing one man. Chaminda Vaas was a thorn in our side batting in the lower order, he scored crucial runs.

"In the first innings here the partnership between him and Murali to get them to 230-odd was crucial in the context of the game. It was tough today though and you have to take your hat off to the way Murali bowled today. I can assure you we were trying our best."

He did not seek excuses in the pitch. "It would not have been my choice of pitch but we can't use that as an excuse. You play the pitch you are given," Flintoff said.

"We got into positions where we could have won the game or got back into it. And over the three Tests we played some great cricket. In this Test match Murali was special, but we lost it in the first innings not scoring enough runs."

Flintoff still attempted to accentuate the positive though. "Alastair Cook batted well throughout and Monty Panesar has shown he can bat as well at the end, and he picked up his maiden five-wicket Test haul."

Mahela Jayawardene was simply thrilled at the way his team fought back. "It almost feels as if we have won the series. I am very proud to be a part of this team. They have fought brilliantly," the Sri Lanka captain said.