Sri Lanka trail by 181 runs with 10 second innings wickets remaining
Kevin Pietersen’s masterclass fires England into a dominant position.
As England sat down for their lunch, Pietersen was 18* from 33 balls. By the time he was scoffing his tea time snack, he was 106* from 122 balls. This was a compelling innings, the kind that leaves onlookers searching for superlatives. The way that Pietersen batted through that session – and after tea until his dismissal – was comparable to perhaps only Adam Gilchrist of the last decade and was exhilarating in its own right. But when you consider the snail-like speed at which all other batsmen had scored thus far in this match, the pace of his scoring is incredible. It wasn’t just the shots which were impressive, he marshalled the strike so well that at times his partners were as much spectators as the Barmy Army. He came to the wicket with England looking at having to bat another day at least to put themselves far enough ahead. He left it with his side having not only taken the lead, but also then fled half way across Asia with it in the boot of their car.
That innings was so remarkable, so breathtaking, that we’re steadfastly refusing to pick any one part of it as a highlight. From the moment he walked to the crease the pace of the game changed completely. The first half an hour after lunch saw him unleash the most blistering assault on Sri Lanka’s attack – Suraj Randiv was dealt with particularly savagely – and from then on the hosts were reeling. The biggest talking point came as he neared 100 and began trying to switch-hit every Tillakaratne Dilshan delivery into the Kelani River, an act to which the former skipper did not respond well. Having connected with the shot twice, Dilshan simply refused to bowl and Pietersen was eventually warned for time wasting during an innings in which he scored 151 from 165 balls. In a Test match. Cricket is wonderful sometimes.
Because England’s lower order perhaps missed a trick in failing to completely press home the advantage the top four had given them, Sri Lanka are not out of this game. The pitch is starting to misbehave more often than Jesse Ryder after half a shandy and by day five chasing any sort of score on it will be a challenge. The lead currently stands at 181, if the hosts can get themselves even 100 ahead they will be able to put England under real pressure. Alternatively, if this bowling attack can make inroads into the Sri Lankan top order once more, that will surely put England into an insurmountable position. The way this winter’s gone, this will be the innings the bowlers completely fail to perform.