England recovered from two crucial blows to stay afloat in their tough run chase to win the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle.
The tourists, set a daunting target of 340, reached 111 for two by stumps on the third day on a dry pitch that has made batting progressively difficult.
The world number one Test side lost openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook cheaply, before Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen repaired the damage by adding 63 for the unbroken third wicket. Trott was unbeaten on 40 and Pietersen reached 29, with England still needing 229 runs with eight wickets in hand to win the Test and take the lead in the two-match series.
England, who will slip to number two behind South Africa if they lose the series, have never chased down such a big fourth-innings target — their highest successful chase is 332 for seven against Australia at the MCG way back in 1928.
‘History can be rewritten’
England off-spinner Graeme Swann, who claimed six wickets in Sri Lanka’s second-innings total of 214, dismissed suggestions that history was not on his team’s side.
“History is meant to be re-written,” said Swann. “This is 2012. It does not matter what happened years ago. I’d say that we are the favourites. We just need a bit of old-fashioned grit to win from here. Keep out the good balls and wait for the loose ones.
“It’s a good pitch to bowl on, it’s also a good pitch to bat on. If people apply themselves, they will be hard to dismiss.”
Cook, who scored 14, was given out caught at the wicket off Rangana Herath through the Decision Review System after on-field umpire Rod Tucker negated the appeal. Herath, whose left-arm spin fetched him six wickets in the first-innings, dismissed Strauss for 27 when the England captain failed to keep an on-drive down and was caught at short mid-wicket.
Earlier, the hosts were reduced to 127 for eight just before lunch, a lead of 252, when wicket-keeper Prasanna Jayawardene stepped in to hit an unbeaten 61 in the company of tail-enders. Jayawardene, who was caught off a Stuart Broad no-ball when on 29, put on 40 for the ninth wicket with Chanaka Welegedara (13) and 47 for the 10th with Suranga Lakmal (13). The wicket-keeper said Sri Lanka will fancy their chances of winning.
“The psychological pressure is on England,” said Jayawardene. “They still have more than 200 runs to make and it won’t be easy because the pitch is turning. But we have to be patient and do the basics right. We have the bowlers to win this match, so I am not worried at all.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2012.