Wed, May 17, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Sri Lanka pulls off `great escape'

AP , LONDON

Sri Lanka's tailenders spoiled England's hopes of victory on Monday, holding on for a draw on the final day of the first cricket Test at Lord's.

When bad light stopped play in the final session, the visitors were 537-9 in their second innings, 178 runs in front after being forced to follow on. Chaminda Vaas was 50 not out and Muttiah Muralitharan was on 1.

Batsman Kumar Sangakkara, one of seven Sri Lankans to score 50 or more in the second innings, which lasted more than 14 hours, said on Saturday if his team saved the match it would be "one of the great escapes of Test cricket."

Few would have thought when the Sri Lankans were dismissed for 192 in reply to England's 551-6 declared that they would have salvaged a draw.

"It's given a lot of confidence to the youngsters ... that's what they need, confidence, belief in themselves," said Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain and man of the match.

That was before some dogged batting, terrible England fielding, and bad light dramatically changed the course of the game.

"I don't think it's necessary for doom and gloom, we're going all right," stand-in England captain Andrew Flintoff said. "Our confidence hasn't been dented as a team, we're still expecting to win the series."

Sri Lanka opener Upul Tharanga made 52 and No. 3 Sangakkara 65, but the real turnaround came with Jayawardene's 119 on day four, the captain's knock inspiring his team. He was joined by nightwatchman Farveez Maharoof, who contributed 59.

Tillakaratne Dilshan, who began the final day on 39 with Sri Lanka 381-6, went on to make 69, while Nuwan Kulasekara scored his maiden test half century and combined with Vaas for a record ninth-wicket partnership for Sri Lanka of 105 runs.

"Even though I won the man of the match, I think the whole team deserved it," Jayawardene said. "They showed a lot of character from top to bottom, batted really well."

England wasn't helped by a rash of dropped catches.

The last time England played at Lord's -- last year's first-test loss to Australia -- England dropped seven catches. The hosts had nine in this game.

"I'm not going to make an issue of it, you see the lads in practice, you see how hard they work taking catches," said Flintoff, who called the high number of drops "bizarre."

He put down a regulation chance at second slip when Chamara Kapugudera gave a thick outside edge to Matthew Hoggard on his overnight score of 5 at 386-6.

Flintoff made amends when he removed Kapugudera for 10 with a short ball which bobbed high in the air off the batsman's glove for wicketkeeper Geraint Jones to take a comfortable catch. Flintoff bowled 51 overs for his 2-131 in the second innings.

Liam Plunkett claimed his first wicket of the match when he had Dilshan caught by Marcus Trescothick at first slip.

Rain brought early lunch and, at the time, the only thing appearing to stand in the way of an England win was bad weather.

As forecast, however, the weather cleared a little during the afternoon session.

But the poor fielding didn't let up. Alastair Cook dropped a simple catch when Kulasekara edged a Sajid Mahmood delivery straight to gully, giving Sri Lanka another let off at 449-8 when the batsman was on 14.

When dark clouds closed in once again and bad light prompted tea to be taken, England's main obstacle became the tenacity of Sri Lanka's bottom order.

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