After five long days, 14 sessions, and 1459 runs many spectators could have been forgiven for packing up their picnics, downing their Pimms and heading for the nearest tube station to avoid rush hour, with Sri Lanka 164 for three at the tea break.
With Kumar Sangakkara looking solid on 59 and number five batsman Lahiru Thirimanne at the crease and England requiring seven wickets with just 34 overs to do so, any result other than a draw looked improbable.
Alastair Cook, however, had other ideas in mind and on what many had described as a dead, uneventful, flat batting track, decided to play with his field and set a field which could only be comparable to that which may be seen during a late Sunday afternoon village match.
This ploy, which seemed rather unusual, took only 13 balls to become effective with James Anderson, forcing Sangakkara into chopping onto his stumps for 61.
Just four deliveries later, England’s strike bowler took his third wicket of the innings to dismiss Thirimanne for two runs, caught at second slip by England newest slip specialist Chris Jordan.
Sri Lanka had toiled for almost five days in favourable batting conditions following England's mammoth first innings total of 575 for nine declared, but now looked very nervous.
Despite Sri Lanka’s niggling doubts and England’s expectancy, the game was still probable to conclude in a draw with the Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews at the crease, alongside their stylish wicket keeper batsmen Prasanna Jayawardene.
Mathews and Jayawardene dug in and as the overs passed and the ball became softer the match again seemed to be heading in only one direction.
England’s plucky debutant Jordan, just couldn’t keep himself out of the game and with only 11 overs left to bowl, wrapped Jayawardene low on the front pad, resulting in a frantic appeal.
Despite England’s desperate protestations, Billy Bowden’s crooked finger remained behind his back. Without any hesitation Cook called for the review and the decision went upstairs.
As the decision appeared on the screen’s it soon became clear that Jayawardene had not hit the ball, backed up by ‘snicko’.
The next question was whether the ball would be hitting the stumps, and without height being an issue the final call by hawk-eye showed the ball crashing into leg stump, to the delight of not only the England players, but also the many spectators who had hopefully waited round to see such a pulsating finish.
The equation was now simple 66 deliveries, and three Sri Lankan wickets remaining.
With the scent of blood in the air, Cook turned to his key man Stuart Broad, who took the new ball.
Broad did not disappoint and with 40 balls left in the day struck the pads of Kulasekera. This time there was no need for a review as the decision was clear and umpire Paul Reiffel duly obliged and put his finger high in the air to the delight of the England hunting pack.
An England victory now looked likely for the first time in five days of otherwise sombre Test cricket. Sri Lanka’s captain, however, remained at the crease battling stoutly to help his side avoid defeat.
Mathews's two and a half hour vigil came to an end at the hands of Anderson, who managed to get the new ball to nip away off the seam enough to catch the outside edge of Mathews's bat, sending the ball looping into the safe hands of Cook.
England now looked jubilant and unstoppable, needing just two wickets from 18 deliveries.
Cook threw the ball to Liam Plunkett, who bowled the 88th over of the innings to no avail, narrowly avoiding the edge of Herath’s bat a number of times during the over.
The next over was in the hands of Anderson, who also bowled a hostile and direct over at the Sri Lankan number ten, Shaminda Eranga. The nervous right hander somehow navigated the Anderson over, leaving Broad to bowl the final over of the day requiring two wickets.
Broad’s golden arm struck very first ball of the over, clipping the glove of Herath, sending Matt Prior sprawling down the leg side to take the catch in similar fashion to the famous Geraint Jones catch in 2005.
Herath did not wait for the decision and walked immediately, however, replies showed that the ball had struck the glove as Herath’s hand had come of the bat. The decision had been made nevertheless and Broad had 5 balls to knock over the last man Nuwan Prasad.
Prasad who had been knocked down like a rag doll, falling onto his own stumps in the first innings, must have seen his short test career flash before his eyes, as his first delivery from broad whizzed past his ears, sending him ducking and diving. Prasad managed to avoid the ball for the next two deliveries; however with only two balls left appeared to have missed a straight one, which crashed into his front pad.
Umpire Paul Reiffel once again raised his finger, and the England players went into a frenzy of celebration, joined by the trusty faithful at Lords who had witnessed a fantastic and thrilling final session on day five.
Prasad however, immediately reviewed the decision and all eyes turned to the big screen. To the great delight of Sri Lanka, and despair of England, Prasad’s judgement had been vindicated by what the replay showed was a clear inside edge, meaning the decision would be overturned and leaving Sri Lanka one more delivery to survive.
Broad’s final delivery appeared to direct itself in slow motion towards the off stump, only for Prasad’s late flow of the bat to catch the edge, and fall agonisingly short of Chris Jordan at second slip.
What followed was a collection of ‘hands on heads’ on and off the pitch, and massive sighs of relief on the Sri Lankan balcony. Yet despite the final result, know-one in attendance at Lords today could disagree they had been royally entertained, and England must take heart from their effort and will remain favourites to win the series, in the second and final test which start on Thursday in Leeds.
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