Cricket: England scent victory after Swann delivers late wickets

Alastair Cook on the way to his 94. Picture: Tom Shaw/Getty Images
Alastair Cook on the way to his 94. Picture: Tom Shaw/Getty Images
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GRAEME Swann took two wickets in a dramatic penultimate over to raise England’s hopes of a series-levelling victory in the second Test against Sri Lanka.

England had started the day solidly but went 43.3 overs without success in the evening as their nemesis Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera put on 90 for the fifth wicket.

Then, with the tourists fatigued by heat and humidity and facing a tricky chase on day five, Swann bowled Samaraweera and Suraj Randiv in the space of three balls. His ecstatic celebrations on each occasion showed just how important this could be for England – who need victory to draw level with Sri Lanka at 1-1 and preserve their world number one status.

At the close the hosts were 218 for six – a fragile lead of 33 – but with Jayawardene on 55 not out and in sight of his third century in a remarkable series.

England, who had time for just one over on Thursday night, were hoping to knock nightwatchman Dhammika Prasad over early but he quickly became a bigger problem than regular opener Lahiru Thirimanne.

Swann came on after six overs and soon had Thirimanne in strife. Matt Prior missed a simple stumping but it did not cost England as the opener guided James Anderson to slip for 11.

Prasad continued to ride his luck, edging Swann just past Prior for four and then being dropped badly by Steven Finn two balls later. His cameo was finally ended on 34 when he lifted a Finn bouncer down Tim Bresnan’s throat at fine leg.

Kumar Sangakkara’s woeful series almost continued when Finn drew a thick edge off the new man, but he hung on and lunch came with the score 84 for two.

Samit Patel was getting good turn when play resumed but lost his length as he gave Sri Lanka 12 runs in two overs to chip away at the lead. Swann was summoned to replace the slow left-armer and struck with his first ball.

He turned one in to Tillakaratne Dilshan’s bat and pad and appealed as soon as Anderson accepted a looping catch at slip. Umpire Bruce Oxenford upheld the shout but Dilshan immediately called for DRS. There was no conclusive proof either way, meaning the dismissal was upheld to Dilshan’s clear chagrin.

The referral system was in use again three balls later when Oxenford rejected a big lbw appeal from Swann against Sangakkara.

This time technology frustrated England, reprieving the batsman by the smallest of margins.

But there was no doubt when Prior gathered a thin edge off Swann to send Sangakkara back for 21 and leave the hosts 60 behind at 125 for four.

That brought Sri Lanka’s most diligent pairing, Jayawardene and Samaraweera, together and they calmly added 14 before tea.

Eight balls after the restart Jayawardene offered up a rare chance, miscuing Patel in the direction of mid-on. Bresnan was the fielder but could not cling on one-handed and Jayawardene picked up his second boundary.

England’s advantage slipped into the teens as Jayawardene swept Swann for four and when Samaraweera eased Patel for a single, Sri Lanka took the lead.

Jayawardene’s fifty arrived with his 125th ball before Swann finally made the breakthrough.

He turned one sharply at Samaraweera, who was shocked by the spin and ended up dislodging a bail as he ran the ball off the face of the bat.

Swann summoned up one more piece of magic to bowl Randiv through the gate, giving England some much-needed momentum to use on the fifth morning.