England bounced back after being spun out cheaply by Sri Lanka to leave the first Test evenly poised at the Galle International Stadium.
At the end of an eventful second day’s play in which 17 wickets tumbled on a slow pitch, Sri Lanka led the tourists by 209 runs with five second-innings wickets in hand.
Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath grabbed six wickets as England were bowled out for 193 in their first-innings after captain Mahela Jayawardene’s 180 had lifted Sri Lanka to 318.
But the hosts slumped to 84 for five in their second knock, four of those wickets falling to off-spinner Graeme Swann, to set up a thrilling finale.
Swann, who failed to take a wicket in the first-innings, ripped through the top order in the final session of play, including the dismissals of Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.
At stumps, Dinesh Chandimal was unbeaten on 17 and Suraj Randiv was on two.
“It’s going to be a hard Test match to win,” said Jayawardene. “We definitely need 70 to 80 more runs and anything above that will be a bonus.
“We still need to do the hard work with the bat and ball and try and create opportunities.”
Jayawardene, asked by an English journalist whether the tourists had a technical or mental problem in playing spin, responded, “To be honest, a bit of both actually.
“But the wicket is not easy to get runs on. They are still a quality batting unit. We can’t afford to be complacent just because they got bowled out cheaply in the first-innings.”
England lasted just 46.4 overs in the first-innings as their spin woes continued to haunt them after a 3-0 thrashing by Pakistan in the UAE earlier this year.
Ian Bell top-scored with 52, but England lost their way before defiant batting by the tailenders pushed the total from a shaky 92 for six.
The game is still on: Bell
England will slip to number two behind South Africa in the official rankings if they lose the two-Test series, but Bell insisted all was not lost yet in this match.
“Honestly, the wicket is not a bad one at all,” said Bell. “The game is still on and if we can put up a good performance, it can still be a very good Test match.
“It’s been disappointing not to have backed our bowlers, who have been outstanding in this Test. We have been working hard to play spin well, but that will not happen overnight.”
Earlier, Sri Lanka added 29 runs to their overnight score of 289 for eight. Anderson finished with a five-wicket haul when he ended Mahela Jayawardene’s 394-minute knock through a catch by wicket-keeper Matt Prior.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2012.