England require 229 more runs to win with 8 wickets in hand.
After England dragged themselves back into the game, Sri Lanka’s tail wagged furiously for the second time in the match to put the home side into an almost unassailable position.
It could’ve all been so different. With the lead at 294 and Prasanna Jayawardene on 29, the Sri Lankan wicketkeeper skied a short ball from Stuart Broad straight up in the air. The bowler took the return catch and it was all over…Er, except it wasn’t. Broad has overstepped more often than the Wandsworth Scrubs First XI all match, and he did so again at the crucial moment. After that reprieve Jayawardene took the attack to England – thrice he deposited balls into the crowd – and every run off his bat felt like another dagger to the tourists’ heart. Just as in the first innings, the tail held off England for far too long (assisted by some utterly bizarre field placings on both occasions, it must be said) and this time it was critical. Prasanna proved himself a tricky customer in England last summer and he did so again here; he took advantage of the muddled English plans and added 87 with the final two batsmen. It’s worth remembering his skill behind the stumps as well; batting for long periods before coming out to ‘keep straight away is never easy, yet he was still alert and capable enough to take an excellent catch to claim the crucial wicket of Alastair Cook after Tea.
Whilst the no-ball wicket was important, it felt more like another nail in England’s coffin than a defining moment in the match. With that in mind we’re going to stretch the parameters of this section a little and rant about England’s mentality when bowling to tailenders instead. This is not the first time we have seen them completely give up the initiative once they’ve run through the top order (Perth 2010 is the most obvious example) and it almost certainly won’t be the last, but whenever England are confronted by lower order players who know one end of the bat from the other they seem to totally lose their heads. In this Test they have had Sri Lanka 191/7 and 115/7, yet allowed them to make 318 and 214. That’s 226 runs put on by the final 3 wickets (51allout: Doing the maths so you don’t have to). The first 3 have managed 29 between them. Sky showed a Hawkeye graphic comparing the seamers’ accuracy and clear plans to the top order with the scattergun approach to the tail, which was a damning indictment of a side which prides itself on its preparation and execution of pre-set methods. But it isn’t just the bowlers’ fault; early in Prasanna’s innings he found himself confronted by absolutely no fielders in the ring on the off-side and throughout the day England’s mid-on was positioned very precisely into a limbo where he was neither saving a single nor the boundary. Having twice had the hosts where they wanted them they simply allowed the game to drift away without a fight.
There are still a fair number of people, both inside and outside the 51allout bunker, who believe England can win this game. If it were being played six months ago on home soil then perhaps they would have a chance, but here and now it looks a forlorn hope. Only 11 times in history has a team chased more than 340 to win a Test and one imagines very few of them managed it in conditions with which they are completely unable to cope as well as with an entire batting line-up out of form. If Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott bat through the morning session then there may be a glimmer of hope, but there is a reason this sort of chase is so rarely successful. One reasonable partnership changes little; England are staring down the barrel.