England are well placed to win tomorrow and they mostly have one man for whom to thank for that: Graeme Swann. He struck twice in the penultimate over to not only break a stubborn partnership between Samaraweera and Jayawardene, but also sending the nightwatchman back to the hutch two balls later. England might have fancied their chances of winning today, but will probably be happy with having Sri Lanka effectively 33-6 at stumps. Mahela Jayawardene is still in though and we already know just how troublesome he can make batting with the tail.
They day may have looked a bit dull on paper, 214-6, but in practice it was anything but. Prasad started the day by looking less like a nightwatchman and more like a replacement opener. He had a few lives, but comfortably outlasted his partner. The first wicket belatedly brought Dishonourable Dilshan to the crease and the England fieldsmen wasted no time in letting them know exactly what they thought of his antics yesterday. Dilshan responded by suggesting to the umpire that Cook had tread on the protected part of the wicket. (He had actually extended himself to stride over it.) It was all quite feisty for a while; the only thing it missed was KP bowling to Dilshan, which I would have loved to see. It did settle down, at least until Dilshan was dismissed. He got a good ball from Jimmy which he edged into his pads and from there into the hands of Strauss at slip. He immediately reviewed and the only evidence either way was a small red mark appearing on the bat as the ball went by. Given the technology, it was not going to get any clearer than that: with nothing to suggest that the umpire was wrong and a bit to suggest that he was right, Dilshan stayed out. He then threw a bit of a tantrum, but that was to be expected. The Sri Lankans both in the booth and in the dressing room proceeded to then display a complete ignorance of how the DRS actually worked. Michael Atherton had to explain it in the booth to an unhappy Sanath Jayasuria and the Sri Lankan management later expressed confusion about why Dilshan did not get the benefit of the doubt.
It is remarkable just how much gamesmanship Sri Lanka have managed to squeeze into the Test as they try to cling on to the series. It really is quite ugly. They have been repeatedly crossing the wicket when celebrating dismissals and when taking drinks, Samaraweera stood his ground in the first innings, the entire team went into a strop when they ran out of referrals and then there is Dilshan. His antics bowling to KP, appealing excessively (for which he was fined), hiding behind a nightwatchman and then the entire scenario of his dismissal are disgraceful and hopefully he parts with a bit more than just the ten per cent of his match fee he has already lost. I know most of the world wants to see England lose and slip off the number one place, but I think that those who do should also ask themselves if they really want to encourage this sort of behaviour from Sri Lanka.
Whilst all that was going on, it must be pointed out that Sangakkara has now edged the ball four times in this series and has walked straight off every single time. Most of them were pretty obvious, yes, but given the way the rest of his team were behaving I think he deserves praise for playing the game properly. It is too bad that he is no longer the captain.
At the end of the day, England are probably only a couple of early wickets away from levelling the series. Both Jayawardenes and Angelo Mathews are not yet out and can score runs, but if England can pick up where they left off (and they still have a new-ish ball) they will be well set. Sri Lanka have no choice but to score slowly on this pitch to try to keep their last wickets in hand, and as a consequence it will probably not be until past tea interval that the match is completely safe. If they can last almost that long though, there could be a scenario in which England have to chase about 160 in forty overs or so. It would be interesting to see how they would go about that, but it is probably confined to the realm of fantasy. Sri Lanka have batsmen left who could do that, but most teams would still rather be in England’s position.