Mahela Jayawardene played a lone hand in scoring a high-class hundred which guided Sri Lanka towards a competitive first innings score.
Whilst James Anderson bowled superbly throughout the day, not least in an opening spell which reduced the Sri Lankan top order to dust, the day belonged to Jayawardene. He began by patiently rebuilding the innings with Thilan Samaraweera, before putting together substantial partnerships alongside all of Dinesh Chandimal, Prasanna Jayawardena, Rangana Herath and Chanaka Welegedera, steadily increasing his pace throughout. He was given three lives; on 90 as Anderson failed to snaffle a relatively straightforward caught and bowled chance, on 147 when Monty Panesar put down an absolute sitter on the fine leg boundary, and on 154 when the same fielder dropped an even simpler chance at mid-on, but in truth they were lives well deserved. The first was soon followed by a huge hit over mid-wicket and a paddle sweep to go to his 30th Test century, while the second took the Sri Lankan skipper past 150. England have made a habit of struggling to finish sides off but in this instance that they failed to was largely down to Jayawardene’s superb shepherding of the tail – Herath and Welegedera contributed just 5 and 10 to partnerships of 62 and 36* respectively.
Despite Jayawardene’s masterclass, Sri Lanka will still feel their score is a touch below-par. That they were kept in check for most of the day was thanks to a tremendous opening salvo from England’s ever-reliable opening bowlers. First Anderson drew Lahiru Thirimanne into wafting outside his off stump, before following it up with a similar delivery which Kumar Sangakkara could only feather through to Matt Prior. Then Stuart Broad tore in from the other end and forced Tillakaratne Dilshan into a tame defensive stroke which gave Andrew Strauss a simple catch at slip. Suddenly Sri Lanka were 16/3 and in deep trouble, only for Jayawardene to come to the rescue.
England need to finish the tail off bright and early, before taking advantage of what will still be excellent batting conditions to build themselves a big first innings lead. They must be careful though; in Perth last winter they gave away silly runs to the Australian tail which ultimately cost them the game, and already here the notoriously awful Sri Lankan lower order has helped Jayawardene put on over 100 since the sixth wicket fell. When they do get bat in hand a solid start is going to be vital. A couple of early wickets and all the good work of the first two sessions could go completely to waste.