England embarked upon the 2006 summer following a roller-coaster season during which they memorably regained the Ashes after 18 years, but then fell meekly in Pakistan before securing a drawn result in India. Their early season opponents were Sri Lanka, whose batsmen faced the arduous task of having to negotiate the damp May conditions.
Captain Michael Vaughan was still out with injury, which meant that the talismanic Andrew Flintoff – who had overseen the creditable draw in India – continued to lead England. Sri Lanka were lead by Mahela Jayawardene, who had taken over the reins from Marvan Atapattu a couple of series back. The visitors were looking to improve from their last visit to England in 2002, when they were beaten 2-0.
The Test began on 11th May, which was significantly early in the summer. The captains were greeted with a good batting surface and Flintoff had no hesitation in batting first after making the right call. Marcus Trescothick – returning to the side after leaving the Indian tour due to reasons then unknown – looked in fine touch and gave England the perfect start, adding 86 with Andrew Strauss for the opening wicket.
Muttiah Muralitharan dismissed Strauss for 48 at the stroke of lunch, but any hopes of a Sri Lankan comeback were extinguished by the left-handed pair of Trescothick and Alastair Cook, who put the bowling to the sword in a dominating second-wicket stand worth 127. The Somerset star survived two close LBW calls to reach his 14th Test hundred while Cook, playing his first home Test, almost came close to one of his own.
Trescothick finally fell to Muralitharan for 106, which brought Kevin Pietersen into the middle. He began to display his full range of strokes and shared in a rapid partnership of 99 with Cook. Farveez Maharoof, who had been dispatched for nearly four and a half runs an over, had something to salvage at the fag end of the day when he had Cook caught behind for 89. England ended the day at a strong 318/3.
Kevin Pietersen sweeps en route to his 158 which propelled England to a huge total (source – theguardian.com)
Nightwatchman Matthew Hoggard was cleaned up by Chaminda Vaas early on day two, but Pietersen, unbeaten on 54 overnight, continued the flow of runs. Much to Sri Lanka’s misfortune, the highest partnership of the innings was yet to come. The obdurate Paul Collingwood was a perfect foil for the flamboyant Pietersen, and the two made the fielders wilt with a fifth-wicket stand of 173.
It was not until late into the second session that Sri Lanka managed to see the back of Pietersen, who fell LBW to Vaas for 158 – incidentally the same score he made in his previous home Test, which happened to be the crucial Ashes decider at the Oval. In all he faced just 205 balls and hit 19 fours and two sixes. Collingwood chipped in with 57, before England took tea with a declaration at 551/6.
Sri Lanka’s day was going to get even worse. Staring at an imposing total, the top order caved in even though conditions were not exactly favourable for the bowlers. England were missing Steve Harmison due to a shin injury, but the reliable Matthew Hoggard was more than a handful. He sent back openers Jehan Mubarak and Upul Tharanga in quick time, both out plumb in front.
Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene put on 60 for the third wicket to provide a semblance of stability, but from thereon disaster struck. Debutant Sajid Mahmood (3/50) nipped out Sangakkara, Thilan Samaraweera and Chamara Kapugedera (the latter two for ducks) in consecutive overs to leave Sri Lanka tottering at 85/6. They ended the day needing 261 to avoid the follow-on.
Jayawardene, with 61, was the only batsman to show up as Sri Lanka subsided for 192 by lunch on the third day. Hoggard bowled with discipline and economy to collect 4/27. Sri Lanka were 359 in arrears and with the match yet to reach the halfway mark, they needed a miracle to even remotely stay alive in the contest. The start of the second innings was familiar, as Hoggard dismissed Mubarak with only ten on the board.
The pitch was as flat as ever and this was Sri Lanka’s big chance to dig deep. Tharanga (52) and Sangakkara (65) provided the first glimpse of a fight from the Sri Lankan camp, as they laid the foundation with a partnership of 109 for the second wicket. Left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, who like Cook was playing his first home Test, accounted for both batsmen before the day ended. Sri Lanka nudged to 183/3 with two days still left to negotiate.
Day four saw a further fightback from the middle order, as nightwatchman Maharoof (59) accompanied his captain for more than 40 overs in a fourth-wicket stand which realised 118 runs. Sri Lanka’s resilience possibly had an effect on England’s fielders, who dropped more catches than they would have liked to. Jayawardene, who had a life on 58, scored a gritty six-hour 119 to add to his first-innings fifty.
Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene was named man of the match for his efforts of 60 and 119 (source – skysports.com)
Yet, as the fourth day concluded, an English victory seemed just a matter of time. Sri Lanka had put on a brave front, reaching 381/6, but the lead was only 22. Kapugedera and Dilshan (69), the last of the assigned batsmen, fell in quick succession, leaving the tail to see out virtually the entire fifth day. When Liam Plunkett removed Dilshan, Sri Lanka were in effect 62 for eight.
What followed was a sensational rearguard from the pace bowling duo of Vaas and Nuwan Kulasekara that completed one of the greatest escapes in Test history. When Sri Lanka were 90 ahead just after lunch, Cook dropped Kulasekara – yet another miss which summed up England’s sloppy groundwork. The partnership eventually grew to Sri Lankan record of 105, by which time Sri Lanka were on safe shores.
When Kulasekara was dislodged for a valiant 64 in over three hours, Sri Lanka’s lead was a secure 167 and less than 30 scheduled overs were remaining to be bowled. The final pair of Vaas – who remained unbeaten on a four-hour 50 – and Muralitharan saw off six overs in overcast conditions before bad light was offered and stumps were called. Sri Lanka had pulled off a stunning escape – their marathon effort ended at 537/9 after 199 overs.
Jayawardene was named man of the match for his fighting captain’s innings, but he well knew that had it not been for the vital support from his teammates, the match would not have gone into the final day. Indeed, in complete contrast to the first innings, nearly every batsman from top to bottom played an innings of substance. There were seven scores of more than fifty in Sri Lanka’s second innings.
This was only the third time that as many batsmen had scored more than fifty in a single innings – the previous two instances being England against Australia at Old Trafford in 1934 and Pakistan against India at Karachi in 2005-06. Meanwhile, England were left to rue an ordinary finish after controlling the game for the best part of four days.
England bounced back from the disappointment with a six-wicket win in the second Test at Edgbaston before Sri Lanka, inspired by Muralitharan’s 8/70, levelled a well-fought series with a 134-run win at Trent Bridge. The visitors ended the tour in a positive vein, with a thumping 5-0 whitewash in the ODI series that followed.