Two wickets in three balls from Moeen Ali recovered hope of a series victory for England on day three of the second Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley.
The part-time spinner dismissed Kumar Sangakarra (55) and Lahiru Thirimanne (0) in the last half hour of the day as Sri Lanka closed on 214-4, clinging onto a lead of 106 runs.
Up until the closing stages, the touring team looked to have taken the initiative in the game. Scoring at a reasonable rate with not many wickets falling in the afternoon session, Angelo Matthews’ side began moving into the ascendancy.
But a late England surge balanced the state of the game precariously.
Sri Lanka were hasty in their business in the opening session, cleaning up the England tail, before setting about posting a competitive victory target. On a pitch that could turn on the final two days, their spinners could win the game.
England began the third day with three first innings wickets still in hand, but it didn’t take long for the tourists to carve their way through the tail, limiting the deficit that Alistair Cook’s side could build.
Resuming on 320-6, Matt Prior and Chris Jordan went about stretching a lead of 63 runs. The seam bowlers tried and toiled with the ball, and had some real success.
A Chris Jordan edge evaded wicketkeeper, Dinesh Chandimal, and Sangakkara at slip.
It wasn’t long before the Sussex seamer was dismissed in similar circumstances though. Off the bowling of Shaminda Eranga, a nick to Mahela Jayawardene at second slip resulted in a good catch.
Jordan’s removal for 17 prompted the arrival of Stuart Broad at the crease. However, the wheels had been set in motion for a trickle of wickets.
The all-rounder’s resistance lasted just five minutes, and culminated in him edging to gully off the bowling of Angelo Mathews.
And the Sri Lankan skipper wasn’t finished with the ball there. Liam Plunkett (2) was to become his fourth victim of the innings when he missed a ball destined for his middle stump.
Prior (27*) - as the last recognised batsman - was then forced into an attacking array of shots, which brought big hits for four and six respectively. His running between the wickets shielded Jimmy Anderson from the Sri Lankans.
But a fourth ball single from an Eranga over proved to be terminal for the England innings. Reacting to a bouncer, Anderson was only able to fend the ball back to the bowler, who gratefully clung to it.
Peter Moores’ men were all out for 365, providing them with a lead of 108 as they came out to field for a second time.
A shaky start to their second innings saw Sri Lanka’s hopes of winning this match slip further away. Dimuth Karunaratne was dropped on four by Jordan at slip - the Test newcomer should have done better as the ball bounced off of his chest.
After that missed opportunity, the breakthrough proved hard to come by. With their scoring rate perfectly encapsulating a lazy Sunday afternoon, the Sri Lankans gradually chipped away at England’s advantage.
Following on from his five-wicket haul in the first innings, Plunkett was again the danger man. The Yorkshire quickie forced Kaushal Silva (13) onto the front foot, which prompted an edge to a gleeful Prior behind the stumps to have the scoreboard read, 40-1.
And - subsequent to a 53-run partnership for the second wicket - this was the same eventual method of dismissal for Karunaratne. The opening batsman gloved the ball to Prior, which invited Mahela Jayawardene to the crease before tea.
He and Sangakkara made it through to the interval unscathed, and with the score at 99-2.
The evening session consisted of Sri Lanka surpassing England’s first innings total, and beginning to build a lead of their own.
With the experience of Sangakkara and Jayawardene at the crease, the Headingley crowd grew restless with the lack of chances being created by the fielding side.
It wasn’t long before the left-hander brought up his seventh successive Test fifty with a boundary through mid wicket.
England’s decision not to select a frontline spinner was looking very costly as the prospective victory target continued to rise.
But some late wickets changed the complexion of the game, offering hope to the hosts once again.
Ali stepped up to the plate, ball in hand, to pick up some crucial dismissals. His first victim, Sangakkara (55) was trapped LBW. Despite a review from the batsman, he was soon heading back to the pavilion, passing Thirimanne on his way.
The incoming Sri Lankan’s poor form continued as he collected a pair, being bowled in Ali’s next over.
They say practice makes perfect, and England’s limited-overs all-rounder was starting to exhibit the hard work he has been placing on his bowling in recent weeks. It wasn’t long before he had an unsuccessful appeal of LBW on Jayawardene.
With the deficit at 68 England were in full flow, and they reviewed an LBW appeal against Jayawardene off the bowling of Plunkett.
Again the veteran right-hander survived, with one eye on the close of play. Some hard graft was required, and was rewarded with his 48th Test century.
And survival was also achieved, with Jayawardene and Mathews relieved at stumps to walk back to the pavilion 214-4, carrying a lead of 106 runs.
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