England in control in Colombo
England enjoyed arguably their finest day in Test cricket this winter as they prospered with the bat after dismissing Sri Lanka for just 275 at Colombo.
Andrew Strauss’ side finished the English summer having just ascended to the summit of the ICC Test rankings, but have since struggled; a 3-0 defeat against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates was followed by a 75-run loss in the opening game with Sri Lanka last week.
The latter left England needing victory in this encounter to secure a draw in the two-match series and, after battling gamely on day one, they put themselves in pole position today.
Having resumed on 238 for six, Sri Lanka were able to add only a further 37 runs before being bowled out as Graeme Swann claimed 3-4 to complete figures of 4-75.
In reply, England then set about trying to build a substantial lead - something that seemed all the more likely after a 122-run opening stand between Strauss and Alastair Cook.
The duo, having - much like most of England’s other batsmen - struggled so much through the winter, played with a confidence and solidity that belied their recent form.
Strauss eventually fell for 61, but Jonathan Trott, a centurion in the first Test, reached the close unbeaten on 15, while Cook was 77 not out, with England 154 for one.
The only real early alarm for the hosts came when birthday boy Steven Finn, 23 today, located Angelo Mathews’ edge, only for the ball to drop comfortably safe.
The batsman, having resumed on 41, responded with a glorious pull through midwicket in the next over - bowled by James Anderson - to move to a half-century.
Swann’s introduction heralded a change in fortunes, though, as Suraj Randiv struck the wily off-spinner to mid-on, where a backpedalling Kevin Pietersen took a fine catch.
Bowling with impressive flight and aided by considerable drift, combined with just enough turn, Swann then struck a crucial blow by removing Mathews, who clipped to Strauss at short-midwicket, for 57.
Rangana Herath soon fell to Tim Bresnan, edging behind attempting a wild heave, after which England thought they had Dhammika Prasad. Matt Prior led a loud appeal for a caught-behind off Swann, only for the tourists not to then review umpire Bruce Oxenford’s not-out verdict; replays suggested the decision would have been overturned.
Their frustration was added to when the tailender drove Bresnan for four in the next over, but Swann soon wrapped things up by sneaking through Suranga Lakmal’s defences.
Sri Lanka’s seamers provided little threat to Strauss and Cook, though the former endured a scare when inside-edging Prasad narrowly past his stumps.
England survived a tricky four-over spell before lunch, after which the openers played with increasing fluency, mixing good running with the odd boundary.
Cook, in particular, was thriving on both sides of the wicket and, while more circumspect, Strauss generally looked pretty solid, epitomised by a glorious straight-driven four.
Lahiru Thirimanne narrowly missed a sharp chance off Herath at short-leg to remove the former, whose clip through fine-leg heralded the fifty partnership.
As the innings wore on, it was Strauss who began to look the more fluent, yet Cook grabbed a rare boundary - albeit thanks to a mis-field - by pulling Herath for four.
Strike rotation continued to be the primary aim after tea, with the openers again combining a good technique with great patience.
Strauss moved to his half-century with a clip to leg and after bringing up the century alliance by ending a boundary-less period of almost 20 overs with a reverse-sweep, Cook followed suit with another boundary.
With Sri Lanka’s bowlers seemingly becoming tired, boundaries were coming more freely as Strauss showed with a drive through point.
There was a moment of excitement for the fielders when Strauss edged Tillakaratne Dilshan just short of slip. That was soon replaced by jubilation as, from the next delivery, the left-hander - attempting to cut - nicked to wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene.
Cook, though, continued on his merry way, cutting Randiv four to the boundary, while Trott looked assured from the off; the pair added 32 before the close.