Sri Lanka strikes through Eranga, Herath after Mathews ton, but England finishes fourth day 389 ahead with two wickets in hand
On an unexpectedly competitive day, Angelo Mathews secured his third Test century before his bowlers, led by a brilliant Shaminda Eranga and a cunning Rangana Herath, gave Sri Lanka a sniff of a gettable fifth-day target. That possibility receded as Gary Ballance, England’s last recognised batsman, found sufficient support from Chris Jordan and Stuart Broad to take the lead out of sight by the close, posting his own maiden century.
Leading by 122 on the first count, England closed the day on 267 for 8, an overall lead of 389 and well placed to force the initiative on the final day.
On a cloudy fourth morning on Sunday (June 15), with the lights on, both sides achieved its immediate objectives for the day -- Sri Lanka’s captain bagging a line on the Honours Board after an excellent 102 and Alastair Cook, England’s captain, strapping on the pads after just over an hour’s play.
It was the short ball again that caused problems when Sri Lanka resumed on 415 for 7, 160 behind England on the first innings. Herath, thinking about the bouncer, was relieved of his middle pole by a Jimmy Anderson yorker which left Mathews in the company of Eranga, the No. 10, with 8 still required for his ton. After the usual faffing about with singles being turned down, Mathews got to the landmark with a boundary slapped through extra cover off Anderson. It was a splendid knock that did much to secure a position from which his team might yet go to Headingley with the chance of winning the series.
The knock didn’t last long beyond the celebration, Mathews perishing in the search for quick runs with the tail as he failed to get his bat down on a Liam Plunkett yorker, a ball much underused as a surprise alternative to the bouncer. And it was a bouncer that concluded Sri Lanka’s innings on 453, Nuwan Pradeep smashing his own stumps as he pirouetted reeling after Jordan hit him on the shoulder. Pradeep was quickly back on his feet and okay without any treatment, so the crowd and the press box could properly enjoy replays of a spot of old-fashioned No. 11 incompetence, safe in the knowledge that no harm had been done.
Cook and Sam Robson negotiated the awkward mini-session before lunch, progressing to 27 without loss 0 and pondering the right approach to take in the afternoon. Pushing on at five an over would give England a lead of about 350 with time to declare and have a pop at Sri Lanka before the close. But the match was about to enter a rare spell in which ball lorded over bat.
Ten balls from Eranga in the half hour after lunch was enough to make speculations about a declaration look hubristic. First, he induced Cook to nick off to the ‘keeper on 28 and then splattered Robson’s stumps when the debutant opener was so late getting forward that he could only get an inside edge to the ball. At 51 for 2, England looked a little uncomfortable for the first time since Thursday morning.
Ian Bell immediately set about reconstructing the innings with signature driving down the ground and through the covers, but he couldn’t deal with Eranga either and fell in identical fashion to Robson, bowled off the inside edge through far too large a gap between bat and pad. 69 for 3 and the game was very much back on, with Eranga finding consistent movement, the first bowler to do so since the green went out of the pitch about 15 overs into the match. His spell of 10-6-24-3 was a reminder of the work of Lord’s specialists like Glenn McGrath, albeit from the Nursery End rather than the Australia player’s favoured Pavilion End. He really was impressive enough to warrant such comparisons.
It wasn’t long before England was seized, as it is wont to be seized these days, by a collective sense of doom. Joe Root - timing it nicely, having made 200 not out in the first innings - got to 15 and then was done by his old problem of indecisive footwork, caught on the crease lbw to Herath. Moeen Ali hit his first ball back over Herath’s head for four (as he had hit the same bowler’s first ball to him in the first innings), but Herath doesn’t have 220 Test wickets for nothing and the next ball snaked through yet another gap between bat and pad and Ali was sent packing for four struck at an unlikely strike rate of 200.
Meanwhile, Ballance was showing that his Zimbabwea roots had been supplanted by his adopted Yorkshire grit, digging in to the extent that he went 26 balls scoreless on 23 while Matt Prior busily played himself in. There was a slightly ill-focused sense of anxiety floating around the ground, as if England’s followers couldn’t decide whether to be anxious about a tea score of 117 for 5 or content with a lead of 239 with two set batsmen in and a strong late order still to come.
Straight after resumption, Prior steered a Nuwan Kulasekara delivery directly to Lahiru Thirimanne at gully, an extraordinary lapse of concentration just as England looked to have steadied a listing ship. Jordan smacked his first ball through the covers for four, but that did not disguise the fact that England’s almost impregnable position was sliding past “strong” and on the way to “fragile" - and that something needed to be done. Ballance, batting with his sixth partner in 23 overs, had suddenly become the key wicket. Slowly, carefully, professionally, he and Jordan calmly reasserted the bat’s dominance of the ball with a stand of 78 in 22 overs, before Jordan looped a leading edge to Kumar Sangakkara for 35, with the lead well over 300.
After some late biffing that brought 24 runs to Broad and a well deserved undefeated century for Ballance, whose easy second fifty was earned by the pressure he sustained during the first, England closed with a lead of 389 and will surely declare overnight. Sri Lanka will have to bat through the final day to save the Test.