This was England’s day. It did not get off to a good start, Strauss lost the toss for the fourth consecutive time and Sri Lanka went in to bat. Strauss’ inability to correctly predict the path of a coin remains the number one reason why he should be sacked.
After that, however, it was eerily similar to the Galle Test, but a bit better for England this time. Once again the first three wickets fell cheaply, this time all to Jimmy Anderson. And once again Jayawardene scored an excellent century as he and Samaraweera consolidated, but this time England managed to get Jayawardene out. Swann trapped him lbw in the 80th over, plus Finn got Prasana Jayawardene before stumps and England restricted Sri Lanka’s scoring rate all day. England might have had loftier hopes after reducing Sri Lanka to 30-3, but 238-6 at stumps is still a good position after losing the toss. With Prasana out, Angelo Mathews is the last recognised batsman and England will be able to target him with a newish ball tomorrow morning.
Credit must go to James Anderson again. He bowled a fantastic spell with the new ball yet again and once again dismissed Kumar Sangakkara first ball. He did not get the hat trick, but he did get Thirimanne not long after. Those three wickets were not just reward for his efforts though. He also bowled one of the best spells one will ever see with a 60 over old ball, getting it to reverse both ways and comfortably beating the batsman time and time again. How he did not get a wicket is beyond me, he appeared to have it on a string. The consistency with which Jimmy has bowled over the past two years is incredible and he seems to be getting better. I don’t think there is any bowler in the world right now, Steyn included, who could have bowled the way Jimmy did today and he has performing at that level on very unhelpful pitches all winter. In the past two years now he has taken 101 wickets in 22 Tests (4.6 wk/Test) at an average of 22.83 and ten of those have been in unhelpful conditions. It’s an incredible return and I think Jimmy deserves at least equal mention with Steyn right now.
There was also some controversy when Samaraweera appeared to glove a ball from Finn to short leg on 36. England were convinced that it was out, but the umpire did not give it and it stayed with his call on review. There were two clear noises on the replay, however, and there was just as much evidence that he had hit it as the incident with Cook in the last Test. This time it was not overturned, however and I think England can justifiably feel hard done by. It was a poor decision on-field and brutally inconsistent by the third umpire. I will also bring up the point I did with Cook’s dismissal: the batsman should have walked. He clearly hit it and standing his ground was an act of deliberate dishonesty. For me it is in the same league as claiming a low catch and it should come under similar criticism. For Samaraweera and Cook to stay at the crease was disgraceful. Cook at least was given out but the only bit of justice given to Samaraweera was a nasty blow to the head two overs later. If he’d walked he would have avoided that.
The match is well set up for tomorrow’s play, England took a pair of important late wickets and need to make the new ball count again tomorrow morning. The big wicket is now that of Mathews, he has not played cricket for a while due to injury and it will be interesting to see how he starts tomorrow. If Jimmy and Finn can be as on-the-money as they were today, they have an opportunity to put England in a great position. After that, it will all be down to the batsmen again.