• England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 3rd day

Moeen strikes but England grip slackens

The Report by David Hopps
June 22, 2014

Sri Lanka 257 and 214 for 4 (Jayawardene 55*, Mathews 24*) lead England 365 (Robson 127, Ballance 74, Bell 64) by 106 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Moeen Ali's intervention during the evening session prevented Sri Lanka getting away © Getty Images

In the Test Match Special commentary box, Graeme Swann wistfully imagined himself bowling on a dry Headingley track. Moeen Ali knew that millions were probably imagining the same thing and, with the Test - and the series - in the balance, it was not a good feeling.

Then Moeen, a part-time spinner asked to offset the retirement of one of the finest spinners in England's history, struck twice in successive overs to stall Sri Lanka's progress. Kumar Sangakkara, rapped on a thrust front pad, was given lbw on review. Lahiru Thirimanne was bowled by one that turned more than any ball in the Test so far - and not just out of the footholds. In the TMS box, Swann's fingers must have twitched with approval.

By removing Sangakkara, he silenced a batsman who had just equalled a world record: seven successive Test half-centuries, a consistent run of success only achieved previously by Everton Weekes, Andy Flower and Shiv Chanderpaul. Sangakkara, who had looked so certain in reaching 55, looked shocked by his misjudgement. It was only his third over in 58, so presumably Alastair Cook, his captain, was slightly surprised, too.

In banishing Thirimanne, he intruded on private grief. Thirimanne, out second ball, completed a pair in an unproductive series. All he had to show for his innings was a yelp from Matt Prior behind the stumps as he kept out the first one and a woody sound as he missed the second.

England desperately needed Moeen's intervention as they laboured for much of the third day to force home the advantage of a first-innings lead of 108. That advantage, with Sri Lanka 106 runs ahead at the close with six wickets remaining, has yet to be achieved. To predict the outcome is to predict the mood of the Headingley pitch and only the sort of person who happily cuddles up to a pet tiger would regard that as a sensible occupation.

Mahela Jayawardene remains, 55 not out in what is surely his farewell Test in England, and as the day drew to a close he began to look as serene as at any time in the series. England have also frittered away both of their reviews on full tosses by Liam Plunkett which were shown to be heading down the leg side.

England's pace attack was not as its best. James Anderson and Stuart Broad went about their work with a narky air. The theories why could be piled high. Maybe it was a hangover from the Mankading of Jos Buttler in the one-day series, a determination to give Sri Lanka no quarter. Maybe it was the fact the ball was not particularly responsive, a view they pressed by repeated, and ultimately successful, efforts to change it. Maybe they felt the vagaries of Headingley were against them. Or maybe they did not welcome Cook's willingness to bowl them in long spells on a comparatively hot day during back-to-back Tests.

Perhaps it had dawned on them that their natural length was too short to give them the most advantage on a dry surface where Sri Lanka had bowled so splendidly in the morning.

Or maybe they had a view about the deadening effects of the heavy roller: used twice in the first hour. England were responsible for the first, before the start of play, presumably in an attempt to quieten the pitch and advance their vulnerable lead of 63. It felt like a negative response given that Yorkshire's hierarchy advised England that restricted use of the heavy roller has brought more pace and bounce into Headingley pitches. After Sri Lanka ordered the heavy roller to be started up for another seven minutes, the life seemed to have been stifled.

By tea, both Sri Lanka openers were back in the hutch, but the tourists marshalled stubborn resistance, impressive for a side that had not won a Test when trailing on first innings since 2009. Plunkett took both Sri Lanka wickets, outgunning Kaushal Silva with pace in his second over to have him caught at the wicket and later in the session switching to the Football Stand End to break Dimuth Karunaratne's resistance.

The 12 overs up to lunch had communicated to England that life would not be easy. When Anderson found Karunaratne's edge, Chris Jordan fluffed a simple chance at slip. The missed opportunities in this Test were heading towards double figures and had they been taken a three-day finish would have been virtually inevitable.

The over in which Plunkett dismissed Silva was a microcosm of his career. If Silva's thin edge came against a decent delivery, the subsequent ball to Sangakkara - a rearing delivery from around the wicket which he managed to guide wide of short leg with one hand - was even better. Then he lost his radar completely and conceded five wides with a delivery that entirely missed the cut strip.

It needed a review to dismiss Karunaratne down the leg side. With the dismissal of Rangana Herath at Lord's no doubt fresh in his mind, Karunaratne was optimistic that he might have removed his bottom hand from the bat by the time the ball flicked his glove only for replays to show otherwise.

In the first hour, Angelo Mathews and Shaminda Eranga exploited favourable bowling conditions in impressive fashion to round up England's first innings. A dry, gripping pitch had become frisky in the sunshine and Mathews and Eranga recognised their opportunity. Nobody relished the conditions more than Mathews, Sri Lanka's captain, whose medium-pace was clothed with venom. He opened the bowling from the Football Stand End and, with the evidence of the second evening behind him, he was right to so.

Mathews took two of the four wickets to fall, defeating Broad's adventurous drive and bowling Plunkett, finishing with Test-best figures of 4 for 44. There were four wickets, too, for Eranga, who had Jordan held at second slip by Jayawardene, diving to his left, and rounded off the innings with a throat ball to Anderson and a return catch. Sri Lanka's seamers had the nous to pitch the ball up and let the pitch do the work and had rarely felt so potent.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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