Prior praises England spirit
Matt Prior paid tribute to England’s battling qualities after they moved a step closer to claiming a series-levelling victory over Sri Lanka in the second Test at Colombo.
Graeme Swann struck twice in the penultimate over of day four to reduce Sri Lanka to 218 for six in their second innings; they lead by just 30.
Home skipper Mahela Jayawardene remained unbeaten on 55, but England can take great heart from having ended his 90-run stand with Thilan Samaraweera, which spanned more than 43 overs and threatened to wrest control from the tourists.
“It was a tough day, frustrating at times, but I think the way we stuck to our guns was absolutely fantastic,” said Prior at stumps.
“In a country like Sri Lanka with the wicket playing pretty flat, and obviously with the heat and conditions, you have to pick and choose your times when you go really hard as a team and as a unit.
“We knew that (spell with the second) new ball was going to be a big time for us and the way the team, led by the bowlers, picked itself up and got a lot of energy going, I think we really deserved those two wickets at the end.
“We are in a very strong position and we’ll back ourselves to chase whatever they set.”
Samaraweera suggested Sri Lanka would be happy to defend a lead of around 150, but Prior refused to be drawn on what would represent a tricky target for England.
“First and foremost we have to take the four wickets,” he added. “It’s still a pretty flat wicket and we need to get those four wickets as quickly as possible. Hopefully we’ll be chasing less than 150.
“If we are chasing 150, 200, whatever it may be, we know we’ve got the ability in the dressing room to chase down anything.”
Only victory will keep England top of the Test rankings, a goal they worked hard to attain and are not minded to lose without a fight.
“That is important,” said Prior. “From an individual point of view every bloke in that dressing room wants to stay number one. We do want to be the best team in the world and we want to prove that we are.
“But it’s not something that will play on our minds. We want to win this Test match because you want to win every Test match.”
Prior also paid tribute to Jayawardene, who, after recording his second century of the series on day one of this match, again showed immense skill and character to defy England’s bowlers.
“He’s played very, very well. He’s a class act,” said England’s wicketkeeper. “It is frustrating, but it’s still a very good wicket and, a player of his quality, if he wants to sit in all day it can be very tricky to get him out.
“We missed a couple of chances to get him (Tim Bresnan spilled a tricky one-handed chance at mid-on when Jayawardene was on 20), which obviously we’ll rue as we set our standards very high in the dressing room. They were missed opportunities, but we come back tomorrow in a very strong position.”
Samaraweera lamented Swann’s late strikes and explained why he played on when well set.
“We were in a good position until the 89th over and lost two wickets. I think that is a crucial point,” he said. “I think a lack of concentration (was to blame). I think Swanny bowled brilliant balls but I think this was not the best ball.”
Samaraweera added: “Tomorrow’s first session is very crucial. We have to get through without a wicket.”
Batting all-rounder Tillakaratne Dilshan, today fined 10 per cent of his match fee for excessive appealing yesterday, echoed Samaraweera’s resolve.
“Up until Swann’s (last) over we were in control,” he said. “But there is still a big session in the morning. Angelo (Mathews) is in, Mahela is in good form and Prasanna Jayawardene can bat too.
“If they can bat one session and we lead by 130-140 this can still be a very good Test match.”