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  • England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test

Woeful England sink towards defeat

The Report by David Hopps
June 23, 2014 « Ruthless Djokovic bounces back on Centre | Rashid's burst takes Yorkshire top »
England 365 and 57 for 5 (Root 8*, Prasad 4-15) need 293 more runs to beat Sri Lanka 257 and 457 (Mathews 160, Jayawardene 69, Plunkett 4-115)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Dhammika Prasad produced a dream spell to dismantle England © PA Photos
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Sri Lanka have never won a Test series in England, but they are closing in on a magnificent achievement after their captain, Angelo Mathews, with a brilliant domineering hundred, followed by a scarcely credible spell from Dhammika Prasad consigned England to a day of untold gloom in the second Test at Headingley.

Prasad was the fifth Sri Lanka bowler used in an England second-innings innings which only amounted to 26.2 overs at the tail end of the fourth day, but he bustled in to such staggering effect that he demolished England with 4 for 15 in six overs, bowling the fuller Headingley length that a browbeaten England's attack had found quite beyond them. Headingley danced to his tune.

For England, defeat seems only a matter of time. A few balls have started going through the surface, the forecast is set fair for the final day and, even allowing for the time difference, they should still be celebrating in Colombo by sunset.

This will go down as one of the most treasured days in Sri Lanka cricket history. It was also an increasingly shambolic display by England. They looked weary with the ball and then blundered to 57 for 5, a target of 350 receding over the horizon, on the same slow, dry surface on which Sri Lanka had made 457.

Alastair Cook, a captain debilitated by a lack of runs and doubts about his tactical acumen, was the first to fall, secure enough in reaching 16 then dragging a pull into his stumps off a bottom edge in Prasad's first over.

The day finished to the sound of excited Sri Lankan laughter as the nightwatchman, Liam Plunkett, poked a lavishly flighted delivery of devilish innocence from the left-arm spinner, Rangana Herath to extra cover. In the England dressing room, Cook must rarely have felt lonelier. It is not a knee jerk response to wonder if he should consider his position.

Prasad followed up his dismissal of Cook by unpicking Gary Ballance first ball with a late inswinger. The last ball of his third over accounted for Sam Robson, pushing hard outside off stump and nicking to Mahela Jayawardene at second slip. Then he started his fifth over by producing a nip-backer to knock back Ian Bell's off stump. Plunkett was dropped off Prasad by Jayawardene at slip; England successfully reviewed wrong decisions by Billy Bowden in successive Prasad overs. He must have felt unplayable.

All this was set up by Mathews. He played one of the great match-changing innings in Headingley's Test history: a career-best 160 from 249 balls, his fourth Test century, the last two made in successive Tests in this series. Sri Lanka were under pressure when he came to the crease at No. 6 on the fourth evening, only 68 ahead, but he summoned an innings of controlled power and fortitude, dropped only once, an awkward return catch to Plunkett on 87. Mathews eventually came to grief on 160, mistiming a full toss from James Anderson to Moeen Ali at midwicket.

Displaying measured power and a calculating mind, he ran his innings much as he pleased. Alongside him throughout the afternoon Herath was unyielding. A stand of 149 in 36 overs left England bereft and it was only one run short of equalling the record in Tests on this ground when it was broken by a run-out with the final ball of the afternoon session. Mathews struck Moeen too firmly to mid-on, changed his mind on a single that would have brought up his 150 and Herath, stranded in mid-pitch, was run out by Joe Root's direct hit.

A stand of such magnitude was the last thing Cook must have anticipated when the rotund, amiable figure of Herath rolled out at No. 9, with Sri Lanka's lead 169. Cook engineered a tactical game of cat and mouse to keep Mathews off the strike. Instead, it merely empowered him as he won the tactical battle time and again. As Herath grew in confidence, England were trapped down a cul de sac. Mathews was even given an easy single to reach his hundred.

Mathews was both brave and innovative against Plunkett, who posed England's greatest threat, either hooking the short balls or making room to carve through the leg side. Tired offerings by the other pace bowlers were clattered back past them. Questions were asked why Anderson looked so discontented, whether Stuart Broad's knee was still ailing and why he did not bowl cutters, and why Chris Jordan did not take a wicket in the match when it seemed the conditions might have suited him.

England's quartet of quick bowlers increasingly felt the strain of back-to-back Tests in predominantly batting-friendly circumstances, an exhaustion deepened by the reluctance of Cook, to entrust responsibility to his sole spinner, Moeen, who remains unproven at the highest level.

Moeen, one over apart, did not appear until 45 minutes after lunch with Mathews' fourth Test hundred already safely parcelled up. Moeen still lacks variety, but he found a little turn, narrowly lost a review for lbw when Herath was 21 and might have had Herath caught at the wicket, slog sweeping, when Prior, moving cumbersomely, could not hold a difficult chance down the leg side. Even Herath played with freedom in the later stages, pulling Broad with delight to bring up the 100-run stand.

That England faced problems became evident when they made unimpressive use of the second new ball, struggling to come to terms with the fact that the surface, by and large, was in a contented mood. Certainly the pitch was more contented than Anderson, who in theory should be a Headingley match-winner when the ball swings but who has never come entirely to terms with the ground.

The second new ball was seven overs old when Anderson finally found the right Headingley length and Jayawardene, on 79, drove at an outswinger and was caught behind. It is possible that this was the last Test innings in England for both Sangakkara and Jayawardene and, if so, it was an appealing statistical quirk to find that two exalted players finished the series locked together on 11,493 Test runs.

The breach finally made, England then dismissed Dinesh Chandimal and Prasad in successive balls. In a Test where catching opportunities have been regularly spurned, both fell to moments of good athleticism by two Yorkshire fielders: Chandimal hooking to Ballance at deep square-leg; Prasad uppercutting to Root, diving forward at third man to clutch the catch precariously in outstretched fingers. Sri Lanka had lost three wickets for nine runs in 16 balls, but Cook's belief that the end was nigh was slowly extinguished.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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