ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday December 2, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 27

Sri Lanka yet to beat England at Asgiriya

By Aubrey Kuruppu

A majestic view of the Asgiriya Cricket Grounds - Pic by Saman Kariyawasam

It may be cold comfort, but having battled the best – and even though eating humble-pie-the Sri Lankans can take comfort from the fact that the worst is over. The visit of the England team, after the ordeal Down Under, is akin to the calm after the storm.

Many factors tilt the scales decisively Sri Lanka’s way. The team obviously is battle-hardened and ready for the fray. By contrast, Vaughan’s side is coming off a winter at home. The pitches, the climate and the feel good factors are all in favour of Mahela’s men.

England have been beset by injuries before, as well as during the tour. Their preparations haven’t gone accordingly to the script. If the bowler’s had their egos battered and bruised at the CCC, then it was the turn of the batters to be swept aside as though they were mere leaves in the wind. That. Too, by a pair of seamers only one o who, has hopes of taking the field at Asgiriya.

But don’t write the visitors off. Series, gave them a chance in the limited over series, yet by dint of perseverance, dogged will and the ability to play above themselves when the situation demanded it, Collingwood’s team beat a more experienced, attractive and, on paper, formidable side. The runner up in the World Cup was pegged back.

March 2001 and Asgiriya played host to Nasser Hussain’s English side. The fact that England triumphed by three wickets is almost beside the point. The game itself was acrimonious and full of rancour. Jayawardena’s 101 saw Sri Lanka reach 297. It was a decent enough total but not one to make their opponents fret and worry about it.

Typically, Hussain led from the front. Occupation of the crease was uppermost in his mind. For the most part he gritted it out, but did bestir himself once to jump out and loft the demon spinner over the boundary at long on. England obtained a lead of 90 which in the final analysis was worth its weight in gold.

Sri Lanka’s second innings of 250 was built around a strokeful 95 by Sangakkara. The hundred was there for the taking, but a rush o blood saw him jump out to a Croft delivery, miss and be stumped by Stewart. England huffed and puffed their way to the target of 161. Muralitharan 4-127 in the first innings was unable to do too much damage in the second.

The tables were turned. Having won by an innings and 128 runs at Galle, the local team succumbed at Asgiriya by three wickets and, in the decider at the SSC, by four wickets. It was a triumph for Hussain who marshaled his men well and held his nerve when quite a few were losing theirs.

In less than two years, the Englishmen were back, led this time by the less feisty Michael Vaughan. The opener at Galle was a heart stopper, with Giles and the last man keeping Murali (11 for 93). Dharmasena and Jayasuriya at bay to earn a draw.

Sri Lanka had done all the running but failed to clear the final hurdle. The pattern was repeated at Asgiriya. Sri Lanka’s 382 saw contributions from almost every one, with Dilshan 63 and debutant Dinusha Fernando making the most of their opportunities.

Rolled over for 294, England were led by 88 runs. An attacking 100 from Dilshan and an elegant 52 from Mahela saw the home team time their declaration to a nicety. Vaughan gritted his teeth and refused to be beaten. His 105 (he also made 52 in the first innings!) was the corner stone of England’s reply of 285-7. Read and Batty kept their heads and their wickets to draw the second test, too.

Murali was hardly scored off as his figures of 40-18-60-4 and 56-28-64-4 confirm.

England had played catch up cricket in the first two tests and had barely survived. The decider at the SSC was different. The Sri Lankans confirmed that in local conditions they were the masters by thrashing England by an innings and 215 runs to take the series 1-0.

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