England stay top with Colombo success
England ended a disappointing winter on a high by securing an eight-wicket victory over Sri Lanka that ensured they remained at the summit of the International Cricket Council Test rankings.
Having followed up a disappointing 3-0 loss to Pakistan at the United Arab Emirates with a 75-run defeat in the opening fixture against Sri Lanka, much rested on this encounter for Andrew Strauss’ men.
Indeed, only a win could earn them a draw in the two-match series, while anything less would have allowed South Africa to leapfrog them and become the world’s number-one ranked side.
But, drawing on the experience gained over a successful two-and-a-half years, England claimed a hugely impressive success on the back of brilliant performances from Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen, who struck a sparkling 151 earlier in the clash.
Sri Lanka had entered the final morning on 218 for six - 33 runs ahead - with Mahela Jayawardene 55 not out.
Their skipper moved his score on to 64, but fell to Swann, who, having created several chances with little reward, wrapped up a 13th five-wicket haul in five-day cricket.
The off-spinner also dismissed Prasanna Jayawardene to end with figures of 6-106, completing a match haul of 10-181.
Samit Patel and Steven Finn claimed a wicket apiece to eventually dismiss Sri Lanka for 278 and leave England needing just 94 to win.
They finished the job in just 19.4 overs as Alastair Cook and Pietersen ended on 49 and 42 respectively.
Swann created an immediate opportunity as Angelo Mathews inside-edged to short-leg, where Cook dropped a difficult chance.
James Anderson thought he had claimed the crucial wicket when umpire Asad Rauf raised the finger after Jayawardene was rapped on the pad. However, the decision was overturned on review with replays showing an inside-edge.
England’s frustration was added to as Mathews nicked Anderson just short of slip, after which the batsman pulled authoritatively through midwicket.
Cook then missed another chance at short-leg, before Swann beat Mathews’ bat with a beautiful arm ball.
The off-spinner soon got the reward he deserved, finding sharp turn and bounce to catch Jayawardene's glove - Cook this time making no mistake at short-leg.
Despite the rubber spanning just two Tests, the Sri Lanka skipper had faced a remarkable 729 balls for 354 runs at an average of 88.50.
But his namesake, Prasanna, did not last too long today, bowled around his legs by Swann with one that kept low.
Rangana Herath edged Patel to Anderson at slip and, after Mathews and Suranga Lakmal found a couple of boundaries, Finn wrapped up the innings by dismissing the former for 46.
Finding a bit of extra bounce, the paceman struck Mathews on the glove to leave Strauss with the simplest of catches at midwicket.
England got off to a disastrous start in their chase as Strauss, fatally attempting to play across the line, was bowled by a Tillakaratne Dilshan delivery that hit the top of off stump.
Cook got the first runs on the board with a three through point, after which Trott was struck on the pad by Herath; umpire Rauf’s not-out verdict was upheld on review with the ball missing leg stump.
The former then added real impetus to the chase, following up two boundaries off Dilshan by cutting Herath for another in the next over.
Jonathan Trott fell soon after, however, trapped leg before by Herath for five after a successful review by Sri Lanka.
Cook continued to look impressive, epitomised by the regularity with which he was able to find the fence.
Despite showing positivity in his footwork, Pietersen initially looked more circumspect - a spell which ended when he launched Herath down the ground for a six and four from successive deliveries.
Seemingly wanting to finish things off quickly, the first-innings centurion upped the tempo further thereafter, switch-hitting another boundary before Cook cut through point.
Fittingly, it was Pietersen who wrapped things up; he hit Dilshan for back-to-back fours before launching the off-spinner over midwicket for another maximum to end England's four-match losing run in five-day cricket.