Off-spinner Graeme Swann grabbed four wickets to leave a rejuvenated England on the brink of a series-levelling win in the second and final Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo on Friday.
Sri Lanka, trailing by 185 runs on the first innings, ended the fourth day’s play at 218-6 in their second knock, a lead of 33 runs with only four wickets in hand on a wearing P. Sara Oval pitch.
Skipper Mahela Jayawardena stood in England’s way with an unbeaten 55, showing the form that has already fetched him two centuries in the series, including one in the first innings.
England, who lost the first Test in Galle, will return for the final day’s play on Saturday looking to polish off the rest of the Sri Lankan batting quickly.
Andrew Strauss’ men need a win to draw the series and retain their number one Test ranking.
The tourists were hoping for a swift closure when Swann grabbed the key wickets of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara in the post-lunch session.
But Thilan Samaraweera (47) and Jayawardena kept the England attack at bay – even for nine overs with the second new ball – during a 90-run partnership for the fifth wicket.
Swann, coming on two overs before stumps, bowled Samaraweera with his first delivery and Suraj Randiv with the third to pin Sri Lanka against the ropes.
If England do the unlikely and fail to win, they will rue a dropped catch off Jayawardena by Tim Bresnan at mid-on off Samit Patel when the batsman was on 20 and the hosts were still 46 runs behind.
Dilshan was unfortunate to be given out, caught in the slips off Swann as TV replays proved inconclusive whether the ball had gone off the bat.
Third umpire Rod Tucker reviewed Dilshan’s challenge for more than five minutes before upholding on-field official Bruce Oxenford’s decision to give the batsman out.
Dilshan, who earlier in the day had been fined 10 percent of his match fee for excessive appealing in England’s first innings, walked off clearly unhappy with the decision.
Sri Lankan coach Graham Ford immediately went up to match referee Javagal Srinath to ask why the benefit of doubt had not been given to the batsman, as is the norm in cricket.
The infra-red Hot Spot technology, which could have determined an edge, is not being used for the series.
Dilshan, who made 35, has now gone 21 innings without a Test century since plundering 193 against England at Lord’s in June last year.
Later in the same over, Swann appealed for leg-before against Sangakkara, which Oxenford turned down. This time it was England’s turn to lose the review even though the ball clipped the off-bail.
But Sangakkara did not last long as he edged Swann to wicket-keeper Matt Prior after making 21, with Sri Lanka still 61 runs in arrears.
The left-hander, who had been dismissed first ball in two of the three previous innings, finished the series with a dismal average of 8.75.
Lahiru Thirimanne (11) and nightwatchman Dhammika Prasad (34), who saw off one over on Thursday evening, put on 23 for the first wicket when Sri Lanka resumed at 4-0.
Prasad, a tailender who averaged 19.20 in his previous nine Tests, survived two dropped catches to defy England for 87 minutes and even helped himself to five boundaries, but it was mostly downhill for Sri Lanka after that.