ENGLAND must succeed in the biggest fourth-innings chase in their history if they are to beat Sri Lanka in the first Test at Galle.
Andrew Strauss’ side will resume on the fourth morning on 111 for two as they look to reel in an imposing target of 340.
England have chased down more than 300 on just three occasions, with a best of 332 against Australia in 1928, and they must defy the history books to better that here. The largest last-innings score at Galle in 19 Tests is just 253, with the best chase a paltry 96.
But, after losing both openers, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen put on 63 to raise the prospect of an unlikely success. Win or lose, England will be disappointed by their failure to pocket Sri Lanka’s last two wickets earlier in the day, with Prasanna Jayawardene making 61 not out in late stands worth 40 and 47.
The tourists’ lowest ebb came when Stuart Broad had Jayawardene caught and bowled with the deficit at 293, only to be retrospectively no-balled. Sri Lanka began 209 ahead at 84 for five. Quick wickets and a chase of under 250 was England’s aim but they were forced to wait for the breakthrough as Dinesh Chandimal and nightwatchman Suraj Randiv added 30 runs.
After 45 minutes, Chandimal produced an ugly swipe to hand Monty Panesar his first wicket and Randiv’s hour-long stay ended when Swann won an lbw verdict. That sealed Swann’s 12th five-wicket haul in Tests and he added the scalp of Rangana Herath, bowled hacking across the line. At 127 for eight, the end seemed in sight but Jayawardene had other ideas. With Chanaka Welegedara in support, he teased the lead to 276 at lunch.
The pair added a vital 40 before Panesar found Welegedara’s edge and Strauss took a smart catch. Five balls later came Broad’s no-ball nightmare.
Jayawardene made good use of his luck, hitting three sixes – including a muscular pull off Broad to go to a potentially match-winning half century. It took a run out to end the innings at 214.
For England, Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss both got off the mark with trademark cuts for four and reached tea on 27 without loss after seven overs.
But Herath was quick to make his mark at the start of the evening’s play and Cook was the man out, caught behind for 14.
Off-spinner Tillakaratne Dil-shan was brought on as England’s trial by spin began again and Strauss, for the second time in the match, failed the test.
Having been out sweeping in the first innings, the skipper came down the track to Herath this time but holed out to Dilshan at short mid-wicket for 27 continued a trend of getting out when seemingly established.
Mahela Jayawardene turned up the heat on Trott and new man Pietersen, giving both Dilshan and Randiv four close catchers on the leg-side. And an ill-at-ease Pietersen was dropped on 12 at leg slip.
But a flurry of boundaries brought up the 50 partnership and the England 100, with both men doing a good job of controlling conditions. At stumps Trott was 40no, while Pietersen had moved to 29no.
ENGLAND captain Andrew Strauss has made 19 Test hundreds, but just one in his last 48 attempts. Here are some of the statistics behind the left-hander’s struggles:
lHe averages only 28.52 since his last hundred in England’s famous draw in Brisbane 23 innings and 16 months ago.
lHe went 30 innings between Test hundreds, in the days before he became England’s permanent captain, between August 2006 against Pakistan at Headingley and the career-best 177 in Napier which many believe saved his international career in March 2008.
lThere have been five half-centuries in that time, with a top score of 87 and just one duck.
lStrauss has been caught 12 times, lbw six, bowled four and stumped once.
lHe still averages 41.15 in 93 Tests, and is joint sixth - alongside team-mates Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen - in England’s list of all-time most prolific century-makers.