Sangakkara century bolsters Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka saved the follow on with a dazzling century from Kumar Sangakkara and a highly responsible undefeated 79 from Angelo Mathews, the captain, but trailed England by 160 runs with three first-innings wickets in hand and two days to play. Moeen Ali took his maiden Test wicket and Matt Prior proved his fitness with three more catches to give him four in the innings so far. On a still blameless pitch, it’ll need a collapse from one side or the other – something not beyond the realms of possibility – if a result will be forthcoming in this First Test of the two-Test series.

Floodlights rather than sunlight illuminated Lord’s, as the promised clouds rolled in to greet the players at the start of Day 3. If the bowlers were encouraged by the weather after just 10 wickets had fallen in the previous two days, the light rain that dusted the ground in the first half-hour made reverse swinging the 40 odd overs old ball much more difficult than England hoped. Sure enough, England’s experienced seamers, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, struggled to induce any movement at all and the match settled into its familiar rhythm of hard work for the fielding side and steady accumulation for the batsmen.

Out of nowhere, and not for the first time in this match, the bouncer did the trick, as Kaushal Silva failed to get fully out of the way of an Anderson delivery and feathered a catch through to Matt Prior departing for a useful 63. Mahela Jayawardena walked through the Long Room to join his old mate Sangakkara in the middle for a last hurrah at the Home of Cricket and, after the applause died down, a murmur went around the ground – this partnership, which has added over 6000 runs in Tests, is what people had come to see.

Lunch was taken with Sri Lanka 212 for 2, still well behind but very comfortable on a pitch that resembled an Ahmedabad road, rather than an early summer, juicy English seamer. It was the kind of track that always gets people talking about whether more should be offered to the bowlers – I’d suggest that, still not halfway through the match, the bowlers ought to have offered more themselves. Test cricket is supposed to be hard work.

Midway through the afternoon session, midway through the match, England took the new ball and Broad immediately got past Jayawardena’s bat to rap him on the pads in front of off stump. 144 Tests does give you certain rights over the use of the DRS which were duly exercised, but Billy Bowden had got it right and Jayawardena had to be content with 55. Lahiru Thirimanne committed the cardinal sin on a flat wicket of working a nothing ball from Anderson straight to Sam Robson stationed just forward of square-leg, who completed a simple catch and Sri Lanka was in a little trouble at 289 for 4, still 286 in arrears.

But England needed to get Sangakkara out if it were to turn an advantage into an opportunity. Sangakkara was having none of it, posting a second successive century at Lord’s (after his brilliant ODI effort of a fortnight ago) continuing to drive, pull and cut with familiar felicity. Can this really be his last visit to Lord’s as a player? At nearly 37, his powers are undiminished and there’s barely a cricket fan in the world who would rather see him gone for 10 than for 110.

If anyone was in any doubt as to why Mathews bowled himself for just 11 of the 130 overs that comprised the England innings, they had their answer, as the Sri Lanka captain got his head down to bat like a specialist to reach 79 by the close with power to add.

On 385 for 4 with the match drifting after tea, Sangakkara essayed a slightly tired cut at Ali’s off spin and edged to the admirably alert Prior. It was a maiden Test scalp for Ali and one that he’ll never forget, even if the match fades from memory quite quickly. Sangakkara had played beautifully, unrolling his peerless cover drive and generally looking entirely at home on the kind of pitch on which he grew up. 147 was his reward, but it could easily have been a triple ton to match his achievement last time out in Test cricket, so easy were conditions for batting. The great player will have to be content with becoming the first man to score three consecutive Test hundreds three times in his career.

With the 400 came Prasanna Jayawardene’s wicket, Liam Plunkett rewarded for running in hard all day when the diminutive wicketkeeper turned one off the middle of his bat straight to Ian Bell at leg slip, where it stuck well. Yet again, the line in at the body had brought reward, but the batsman really ought to have been wise to the field and happy to let the ball pass through to the ‘keeper. Nuwan Kulasekara did not last long before edging an excellent delivery from Chris Jordan through to the ‘keeper, allowing Rangana Herath to negotiate a couple of overs before the umpires called time after the extra half-hour, but with six overs still to be bowled.

It’s hard to see where this match is going with just 16 wickets taken in three days. But we said that three years ago at Cardiff, when Sri Lanka was bundled out in 24.4 overs for an unexpected England win. Since then, England’s batting has become as brittle as Sri Lanka’s, but the pitch looks likely to rule the roost as it has done since its green tinge departed on the first afternoon.

(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)

England v Sri Lanka – 1st Test at Lord's View Full