Swann double lifts England
Graeme Swann claimed two crucial late wickets, but Mahela Jayawardene stood in the way of England’s victory pursuit in the second Test at Colombo.
That left Andrew Strauss’ side needing victory at the P Sara Oval to draw the two-match series and stay top of the Test rankings, something that looked likely at tea when Sri Lanka were 139 for four - 46 runs adrift.
But Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera batted through most of the final session and shared a 90-run partnership.
On a pitch that was offering occasional sharp spin but had not deteriorated as expected, the duo mixed good running with the odd boundary to thwart a touring attack growing increasingly tired.
Yet Swann, given the ball for the penultimate over of the day, dramatically bowled the latter for 47 before also accounting for nightwatchman Suraj Randiv to ensure England ended the day on a high.
That left the off-spinner with impressive figures of 4-82 and, despite Jayawardene ending unbeaten on 55, the tourists left the field with real hope of finishing the job tomorrow - the last day; Sri Lanka were 218 for six, 33 runs ahead.
The early introduction of Swann almost yielded a wicket as the off-spinner found sharp turn, only for Matt Prior to miss a stumping chance after Lahiru Thirimanne advanced.
It mattered little, though, as James Anderson located the left-hander’s edge in the next over, Strauss taking the catch at slip.
Swann was bowling without luck; he caught nightwatchman Dhammika Prasad’s edge, only for the ball to evade Prior, before having the same man dropped at cover by Steven Finn.
Having struck a few boundaries in an entertaining stay, Prasad’s innings ended tamely as he pulled straight to Tim Bresnan at deep square-leg off Finn, who then beat Kumar Sangakkara’s bat twice in quick succession.
Samit Patel caused the left-hander problems in the first over after lunch, yet Sangakkara showed some fluency in finding the cover boundary.
Tillakaratne Dilshan, meanwhile, was playing a surprisingly circumspect innings, epitomised by him being unable to find the boundary.
Both he and Sangakkara endured some nervy moments against Anderson, who bowled with excellent control, finding a hint of reverse swing in the process.
It was Swann coming back into the attack that heralded a much-needed breakthrough, though, as Dilshan seemingly inside-edged on to pad, Anderson taking the catch at slip. The batsman immediately called for review, but, with no clear evidence to overturn, umpire Bruce Oxenford’s decision was upheld.
Things almost got even better for Swann and England as Sangakkara was rapped on the pad. On this occasion, Oxenford delivered a not-out verdict, which, following a review, remained as HawkEye showed the ball was only clipping off-stump.
With England building further pressure, Jayawardene had a narrow escape when gliding narrowly past leg-slip, after which he was beaten by a fine delivery from Patel.
The tourists gained the reward their efforts deserved as Swann got rid of Sangakkara for an 86-ball 21. Finding drift and just enough turn, the off-spinner drew Sangakkara forward and found a faint edge, Prior doing the rest.
Patel almost claimed the prized wicket of Jayawardene after tea as Bresnan fingertipped a difficult, one-handed catch when the batsman tried to hit over long-on.
Jayawardene ended a lull in proceedings by pulling to the boundary as he and Samaraweera prospered through a watchful approach.
The fifty partnership came up - off 150 deliveries - when Jayawardene clipped to leg, after which he brought the scores level in similar fashion.
There were still moments of alarm as both Patel and Kevin Pietersen found some turn, but Samaraweera displayed his confidence with back-to-back boundaries off the latter.
Jayawardene moved to his fifty with a late cut for two, and the ease with which he and Samaraweera were playing made the decision to take the new ball a simple one.
Despite Anderson beating the bat on more than one occasion, the decision did not initially yield the results England desired as the batsmen moved their partnership towards the century mark.
Strauss opted to call for Swann in the penultimate and, like so often, the off-spinner delivered.
Finding considerable turn and bounce, he found the inside-edge of Samaraweera - attempting to cut - with the ball bouncing and clipping the top of leg stump.
Sri Lanka sent in Randiv, but he lasted just two balls, bowled by a Swann delivery that turned and hit leg stump.
Anderson finished off a fine spell with the new ball by causing problems for Angelo Mathews, who will resume on three, but he was able to see out the day’s final over.