Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews defied England’s attack after fast bowler Liam Plunkett took two wickets in two balls as the second Test neared an intriguing conclusion yesterday.
The tourists in their second innings were 311-7 at lunch on the fourth day at Headingley, a lead of 203 runs.
Mathews, who scored a century in the drawn first Test of the two-match series at Lord’s, was 79 not out and Rangana Herath 7 not out.
England, whatever happened, face a challenging total for victory on a wearing pitch.
Sri Lanka resumed on 214-4, a lead of 106, with star batsman Mahela Jayawardene 55 not out and Mathews, who had taken four wickets in the first innings, 24 not out.
The batsmen, against less than attacking fields, cashed in by scoring 40 runs in seven overs before England took the new ball, with Jayawardene twice cover-driving paceman Chris Jordan for four.
England took the new ball as soon as possible, with Sri Lanka 254-4 off 80 overs.
Jayawardene was dropped on 79 when Ian Bell put down a low chance in the gully off Stuart Broad, but 37-year-old Jayawardene, in probably his last Test innings in England, had not added to his score when he drove loosely at James Anderson, the bottom hand coming off the bat handle, and was caught by wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
Sri Lanka were 268-5, but that soon became 277-7 as Plunkett, who had taken a Test-best five for 64 on his home ground in the first innings, struck twice in two balls with the aid of catches by his Yorkshire teammates.
Dinesh Chandimal pulled Plunkett straight to Gary Ballance at deep square-leg and next ball Dhammika Prasad, trying to steer over the slips, was well caught low down by Joe Root, running in from short third-man.
It was Mathews who faced the next ball, after the umpires ruled the batsmen had crossed, with Plunkett on a hat-trick for the second time in the match, but the all-rounder steered the ball safely away.
Mathews then drove Plunkett for a ferocious six over midwicket and smashed Anderson back down the ground for four.
In the last over before lunch Herath pulled Broad for four to give Sri Lanka a lead of more than 200.
On Sunday, England spinner Moeen Ali was pleased to have made a telling contribution with the ball against Sri Lanka.
The tourists would have been in an even stronger position had not Ali, primarily a batsman, dismissed Kumar Sangakkara and Lahiru Thirimanne in the space of three balls. It was a heartening sight for England as they adjust to life without Graeme Swann.
“It was nice to contribute to the side, to bring us back into the game because Sri Lanka were playing really well at the time and to do it in that way was great,” Ali said. “I was just trying to bowl as straight as I could to Sangakkara, bowl a dot ball really. He’s taken me down a couple of times already, but I was just trying to do a job for the team and thankfully it came off.”
Ali said he has already picked Swann’s brain.
“He’s been one of best spinners in world for the last seven or eight years. I’ve spoken to him here and there,” Ali said “He’s told me to just enjoy it and enjoy playing for England all the time.”