Colombo: Offspinner Graeme Swann took two wickets in three balls of the penultimate over on the fourth day to put England on a strong footing for a series-levelling win in the second Test against Sri Lanka on Friday.
After captain Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera shared 90 runs for the fifth wicket to rescue their team from a vulnerable 125 for 4, Sri Lanka slumped to 218 for 6 at the close at P. Sara Oval. The home side leads by 33 but it has to survive three sessions on the final day with only four wickets in hand.
Sri Lanka could still hope for a draw and a first series victory in three years with two specialist batsmen at the crease and wicketkeeper-batsman Prasanna Jayawardene to come. For England, a win would draw the two-match series, end a four-Test losing streak on the subcontinent, and retain their No. 1 ranking in Tests. Jayawardene was unbeaten on 55 batting with Angelo Mathews on 3. Samaraweera was out for 47. Swann returned 4 for 82 off 26 overs.
Jayawardene and Samaraweera continued their good form from the first innings in which they scored 105 and 54 runs respectively, sharing a 124-run stand after the team was 30 for 3. Jayawardene's patient 157-ball innings so far has included four boundaries, while Samaraweera spent 139 balls and also hit four to the boundary. Their dogged partnership put Sri Lanka in front and frustrated England for most of the final session.
England took the second new ball after 80 overs in the hope that the seamers could bring the breakthrough they desperately needed. Without success after nine overs, England captain Andrew Strauss handed the ball to Swann and reaped immediate results. The offspinner's first ball was short and Samaraweera tried to cut close to his body and was bowled off the inside edge. Two balls later, Swann bowled would-be nightwatchman Suraj Randiv through bat and pad.
Swann, despite being unlucky on two occasions when straight chances were missed off his bowling, netted the big wickets of Tillakaratne Dilshan (35) and Kumar Sangakkara (21) in the second session after Sri Lanka fought well to reach 84 for 2 at lunch. Dilshan was ruled out under controversial circumstances when TV umpire Rod Tucker upheld onfield umpire Bruce Oxenford's decision that Dilshan was caught at slip by James Anderson. Dilshan reviewed the decision because he felt that he had not edged the ball to the pad before it went to Anderson's hands. However, Dilshan was ruled out despite inconclusive evidence.
Four runs later Swann got a delivery to turn across Sangakkara and found a thin edge to wicketkeeper Matt Prior. Sangakkara made 21 in another poor show with the bat. He has totaled 35 in four innings, including two first-ball ducks.
Resuming day four at 4 for no loss, opener Lahiru Thirimanne was the first batsmen to be dismissed, caught at slip by Strauss off seamer Anderson. He failed to capitalise on a reprieve earlier when Prior missed a stumping chance off Swann. Again, Swann was the unlucky bowler when nightwatchman Dhammika Prasad was dropped at mid-off by Finn, who later made amends with the ball having the batsman miscue a pull shot for a catch by Tim Bresnan at fine leg for 34.
Meanwhile, Dilshan was fined 10 per cent of his match fee after admitting to excessive appealing and celebrating a dismissal before the umpire's verdict during England's first innings on Thursday.