HAPLESS England’s new era appears set to begin with a Test series defeat to Sri Lanka, thanks to Angelo Mathews and Dhammika Prasad’s career-best performances at Headingley.
As the tourists piled up 457, Mathews helped to set the agenda with a five-hour 160 as England ran out of steam for much of the fourth day of the second Investec Test.
Skipper Alastair Cook needed to reply but, in two hours of faulty England batting, he was the first to run into trouble against Prasad (4/15), out for 16.
Cook has now gone 24 Test innings without a century after under-edging a pull at third-change seamer Prasad, who instantly doubled up to have Gary Ballance lbw first ball to an inswinger as England stumbled eventually to 57 for five.
Mathews, adding his highest score to career-best first-innings bowling, shared stands of 92 with Mahela Jayawardene (79) and then a remarkable 149 alongside Rangana Herath for the eighth wicket.
Mathews seemed a step ahead of England throughout, with 25 fours and a six from 249 balls.
The hosts’ frustration multiplied in a second session when their only success came with Herath’s run-out from the final ball before tea.
England had little to cheer either as Sri Lanka bagged 97 for three up to lunch – although Liam Plunkett did put himself on a hat-trick at one point.
Plunkett (4/112) made short work of Dinesh Chandimal and Prasad, to take his match haul to nine wickets.
But James Anderson (3/91) was curiously short and often wide and Jayawardene was dropped at gully by Ian Bell off Stuart Broad.
Anderson profited from pitching the ball up in his next over – Jayawardene edging a drive behind, without addition, having hit eight fours and held England up for 168 balls.
Plunkett went short to better effect for the next two batsmen. Chandimal pulled him straight to deep square-leg, and then Prasad’s upper-cut was very well-caught by a tumbling Joe Root.
Mathews had failed to cross on the first occasion, but managed to do so second time and had little difficulty dealing with the hat-trick ball. He upped the ante in Plunkett’s next over too, walking at England’s fastest bowler and smashing him for six over midwicket.
It was Herath who brought up the 200 lead by pulling Broad for four just before lunch.
England did not help themselves, persisting with a plan to bowl at Herath to the extent that Mathews was presented with the single he needed to complete his fourth Test century. Matt Prior couldn’t hold a diving chance, when Herath swept Moeen Ali via his pad on 25. The little left-hander proved a perfect foil to his captain, until Mathews called for a single to mid on off Moeen and Root’s direct hit easily beat the tailender’s retreat.
Mathews’ innings ended in anti-climax, chipping a full toss from Anderson to midwicket – but still England’s suffering was not done. Shaminda Eranga survived on nought when his edge behind off Anderson was not detected by Billy Bowden.
Eranga clubbed four more boundaries in a last-wicket stand of 20 which ended when Anderson yorked number 11 Nuwan Pradeep, for a first-ball duck.
Cook and his opening partner Sam Robson had waited much longer than they surely expected to bat again but both were gone to Prasad before the close, Robson spearing an edge to second slip.
Plunkett summed up England’s miserable day by plonking the last ball straight into the hands of extra-cover off Herath.