By Rob Barnett
Ian Bell gave an honest assessment of England’s day-four display that enabled Sri Lanka to take a stranglehold on the Test and the series.
The game was in the balance overnight with the tourists 214 for four in their second innings, 106 ahead at Headingley.
Angelo Mathews’ international-best 160 turned that into 457 all out, setting Alastair Cook’s side a tricky 350 to win.
A four-wicket burst from Dhammika Prasad quickly undermined the hosts’ hopes of chasing that as England closed on 57 for five.
Bell, Prasad’s fourth victim, told ecb.co.uk it was “a real let-down, coming into the day with an exciting opportunity ahead, a hundred ahead, an opportunity to win a Test match.
“Sri Lanka have played outstandingly good cricket to put themselves in this kind of position now where they’re dominating the game.
“It’s really disappointing, certainly after the way the first innings was. With a lead, you’d expect a side of the quality that we have to really push this forward.”
Mathews, who began the day on 24, sensationally struck 25 fours and a six in his innings.
His contribution was key to a dramatic turnaround from 48 hours before when England were 311 for three and leading by 54.
They slipped to 320 for six by stumps on day two and 365 all out, just a 92-run advantage on first innings.
Speaking of Mathews, Bell said: “He played an outstanding knock, a knock that looks like it’s going to win the game for Sri Lanka.
“It’s really disappointing. It’s not through lack of effort. Maybe we didn’t get the ball in the right areas as we’d probably like and we dropped chances. But also first innings, we had opportunities to really bury Sri Lanka with the bat.
“That evening session (on day two) probably cost us, set us back, and the following morning. I think we were 311 for three and whatever we were all out.
“When you play against quality teams in Test cricket, you have to bury teams. By letting them off the hook a little bit, they’ve done that to us.”
On a worn pitch Nuwan Pradeep and Shaminda Eranga initially limited scoring opportunities for Cook and Sam Robson.
Then Prasad was introduced in the 16th over, ousting Cook and Gary Ballance in consecutive balls.
Robson and Bell, playing in his 100th Test, followed to the paceman before spinner Rangana Herath felled nightwatchman Liam Plunkett in the day’s last over.
“They were outstanding. Their bowlers ran in, hit the pitch really hard and their spinner at the other end put it in good areas with the little bit of varied bounce that you’re going to get now on a last-innings pitch at Headingley,” Bell said.
“It’s going to be a little bit up and down, there’s going to be some spin so it’s an awkward position.
“Hopefully tomorrow the guys that are left can show what it means to us to put on an England shirt and show a bit of fight.”