Alex Hales narrowly missed his maiden Test century at Lord’s, as England’s cricketers pressed for a 3-0 Investec series whitewash of Sri Lanka.
Both Hales (94) and Alastair Cook had fortune on their side, in terms of decision review and playing conditions, before England declared on 233 for seven on day four of the third Test.
An unusual escape on 58 for Hales, thanks to an errant no-ball call by umpire Rod Tucker, brought a sideshow of minor controversy.
Sri Lanka draped a national flag over the team balcony as a demonstration of moral support for unlucky bowler Nuwan Pradeep (three for 37), then had to take it down because it contravened ground rules.
Sri Lanka Cricket president Thilinga Sumathipala later confirmed Hales’ non-dismissal would be “reported to the International Cricket Council”, saying tour management were “very sad” about it.
The bottom line, however, was that after the sixth-wicket stand of 82 by Hales and Cook England could set their opponents a ground-record target of 362 and had prospects of a third successive victory.
To do so, on a pitch providing variable bounce and sharp turn, they will need all ten wickets on the final day after Sri Lanka closed on 32 for none.
Hales finally departed almost on the stroke of tea after rain had prevented play until 2.40pm.
By the time he was lbw on the back foot to Angelo Mathews, the opener had used up his luck in an innings which contained 10 fours and a six .
The strangest occurrence came when he appeared to have been bowled by a Pradeep shooter.
Tucker’s mis-call provided the reprieve – one which stayed, because of an anomaly in ICC protocol.
A front-foot line decision can be over-ruled by the third umpire to provide an escape route for a dismissed batsman, if the bowler has overstepped without initially being called - but the opposite amendment is not yet in place.
Hales could not reasonably claim to have changed his shot in any way on the basis of a no-ball call on this occasion. Pradeep was thus robbed of his fourth wicket.
In the next over came confirmation that nothing was going right for Sri Lanka when Cook went to the decision review system (DRS) to overturn lbw on the back foot to Herath and simulation showed impact with the left-hander’s back leg was outside off-stump.
The tourists had at least got rid of nightwatchman Steven Finn quickly, pinned in front lbw when Shaminda Eranga (three for 58) swung one up the slope after England belatedly resumed on 109 for four.
Hales was reunited with his familiar partner Cook, the captain fit to bat at seven after recovering from the bruised knee that forced him out of action the previous day.
Hales benefited from two thick edges down to third-man for boundaries off Eranga, and another close call for lbw on the way to his 50.
He was again unable to convert to three figures, but provided the cornerstone none the less for England.
Cook then had the freedom to launch only the 11th six of his Test career, high over long-on off Herath - and mix in some uncharacteristic novelty shots before declaring one short of his own 50.
It was to no avail, as Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva then closed out a day halved by bad weather to only 45 overs.