Stubborn Sangakkara repels England
Kumar Sangakkara’s first Test century on English soil helped Sri Lanka to a hard-earned draw in the final match of the npower series.
He made light of his miserable recent form to hit a splendid 119 as the tourists converted an overnight deficit of 81 into a match-saving lead of 141 at the Rose Bowl.
Sangakkara’s timely contribution, allied to 87 not out from the redoubtable Thilan Samaraweera, were central to a total of 334 for five, to which Sri Lanka were unable to add after tea as the rain that arrived during the interval forced play to be called off shortly before 5pm.
Given the extent to which this Test has been blighted by the weather – 184 overs were lost across five days – it was a fitting conclusion.
It also left England celebrating a 1-0 series win that was ultimately decided by an hour’s astonishing cricket at Cardiff.
Those who turned up today expecting a repeat of that Sri Lanka collapse saw England, whose perseverance was not matched by their luck, take only one wicket in each session.
They was considerable solace in seeing Sangakkara, one of the finest and most attractive batsmen of his generation, convert his overnight 44 into the 25th Test hundred of a glittering career.
Shouldered with the unwanted burden of captaincy and woefully short of form – 65 runs in five Test innings on tour – he batted with the sort of poise and authority that has proved elusive on this tour.
He had repelled England’s advances for more than six hours when he fell to James Anderson shortly before tea, by which time the game had been made safe.
Sangakkara and Samaraweera’s 141-run stand for the fifth wicket, marrying stylishness and obduracy in equal measure, effectively made the game safe after England had spent an hour and a quarter this morning prising the troublesome Rangana Herath from the crease.
The nightwatchman mixed good fortune with flashes of impudence - in the form of wristy pulls and flicks - as he and Sangakkara extended their fourth-wicket alliance to 75.
Andrew Strauss, apparently distracted by Graeme Swann diving across him, shelled a sharp head-high chance at first slip off Anderson when Herath had made five, and Anderson himself missed with a run-out attempt from cover point in the following over.
In between, Sangakkara went past 50 courtesy of a glorious on-drive, indicative of his willingness – and ability – to score off the front foot despite spending much of the early part of his innings being forced on to the back.
Graeme Swann, as so often before, made the breakthrough, pinning Herath on the back leg as he attempted to sweep – having chosen not to refer an earlier not-out verdict that replays suggested would have been overturned.
Strauss, his options restricted by the bruised left heel which forced Stuart Broad off the field, rotated his bowlers to negligible effect as Samaraweera supplied further support to Sangakkara.
Although both edged streakily over the slips, generally they batted with a good deal of common sense on a pitch that still offered pace and bounce, if not quite as much as on the first two days.
Samaraweera may not possess the high front elbow purity of Sangakkara, but he too averages above 50 in Test cricket and he used his feet to good effect en route to a 72-ball half-century.
Sangakkara’s pivotal innings came to an end when he sliced a drive at Anderson to backward point, for once not leaning into the stroke. He had faced 249 deliveries and struck 16 largely exquisite fours.
The ovation he received upon leaving the field was richly deserved, and the only slight blemish on a satisfying day for Sri Lanka was that rain denied Samaraweera the opportunity of the same.