England get their century wish
The drum has been beating for an England hundred with increasing intensity the longer this series has gone on.
Coach, players and, most vociferously, pundits have made no secret of their desire to see a three-figure score from a visiting batsman ever since the first Test got under way at the start of the month.
Their wish was finally granted on the last day as Alastair Cook reached a landmark which had developed almost mythical proportions a matter of hours before he and his team-mates were due to board their flight home.
Cook’s 118 in the second innings in Galle was central to England saving the Test, and almost certainly made the difference between a 1-0 and 2-0 series defeat.
He was the common denominator in stands of 67, 61 and 72 for the first three wickets, not only helping banish the memories of England’s collapse to 81 in the first innings, but laying the platform from which they could mount a match-saving rearguard in the second.
Arguably even more impressive than his partnerships with Michael Vaughan, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen, however, was the manner in which he overcame England’s late-morning jitters.
Cook looked on from one end as Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Ravi Bopara fell in the space of four balls, but he retained his composure to survive the remaining four overs until lunch alongside Matt Prior.
The expected push for victory from Sri Lanka duly arrived after the interval, but Cook and Prior were equal to it.
While Prior gave another demonstration of the gumption he showed during a valiant last-day fightback in Colombo - he spent 100 balls over his unbeaten 19 - Cook continued to exude quiet authority.
For a man who does not turn 23 until Christmas Day, his maturity beggars belief. He has looked nothing but a genuine Test cricketer since he made his debut in March last year, and his hundred here was his seventh at this level.
In the words of Andrew Strauss, Cook’s technique may not be the most pleasing on the eye, but his method cannot be faulted.
He has always collected the bulk of his runs off his legs, but those wishing to look for shortcomings in his technique would be advised to take another look at the clutch of pleasing off-side strokes - off front and back foot - he displayed on days four and five of the final Test.
Muralitharan has been played with increasing comfort as the series has progressed, a sure sign that Cook possesses the ability to analyse his own game and, more importantly, improve on it.
England’s batsmen, Cook included, have suffered from comparisons with Kumar Sangakkara (152 in Kandy) and Mahela Jayawardene (195 in Colombo and 213 not out in Galle), whose mammoth contributions have been key to Sri Lanka’s success.
Just as the need for a major score from an England batsman escalated with every run Sangakkara and Jayawardene collected, so the pressure was cranked up a notch too.
It is a measure of Cook’s talent and temperament that he delivered when England required him most.
But his delight is sure to be tempered by the regret that it did not come a little bit sooner.