Sri Lanka lead by 33 runs with four second innings wickets remaining
Following Kevin Pietersen’s inspiration on the third day, the fourth saw England relying on perspiration before two late strikes from Graeme Swann swung the game back in the tourists’ favour.
Over the last eighteen months it’s become fashionable to make subtle digs at Graeme Swann. Apparently he’s not as good as he used to be. Apparently he’s no longer England’s number one spinner. Apparently he was popping out to buy screwdrivers to rescue his cat when he was pulled over for drink-driving. At least two of these things definitely aren’t true.
Today was the sort of difficult day where England needed a huge performance from their non-obese spin bowler. And they certainly got one, Swann toiled away for 26 overs in which he tested the concentration and technique of some very good batsmen. And Dhammika Prasad. It was a test that the batsmen passed for the majority of the day, with England able to keep the run-rate down, but unable to force a way through their hosts’ middle order.
Entering the final two overs of the day Sri Lanka were in a reasonable position, following a 90 run partnership between Jayawardene and Samaraweera. However, Swann found some spin and bounce (and a little luck) to conjure up two crucial wickets, and suddenly it was a whole different game.
There are some things that we find ourselves talking about every day. Atomic Kitten are one. The DRS system, in all its various formats, is another. Usually it’s the Tesco Value Hawkeye that drives us to the gin, with balls slamming into leg stump being flagged as ‘Umpire’s Call’. Today, however, it was Hotspot (or the lack thereof). When Dilshan was given caught at slip off Swann via an inside edge he went straight for the review. There then followed around 30 minutes of relentless replays which confirmed only one thing – no-one had a bloody clue whether he’d nicked it or not. Sky reckoned there might have been a small red smudge on the side of the bat but years of excessive onanism made it impossible for us to see.
The end result of all this technological failure was that the third umpire had no real choice but to stick with the dubious on-field decision. Dilshan was on his way and England were one step closer to bowling the home side out.
While those two late wickets have definitely swung the game back into England’s favour there’s still a fair bit of work to be done. Angelo Mathews and Mahela Jayawardene are more than capable of batting through a session and England have made not ripping through the tail into an art form recently. And then there’s the small matter of having to chase on a fifth day pitch that is turning.
Anything above 100 will be enough to set the nerves jangling. Add in the inevitable couple of early wickets and suddenly Samit Patel will have his pads on. Luckily we’ve got some extra strong gin on standby, perfect for occasions like this or when we’re forced to watch the IPL.