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Tillekeratne’s tactics were negative
- Michael Vaughan’s resolute knock had an evocative quality to it

For the second Test in a row England scaled Mount Improbable, though they needed a captain’s innings worthy of the accolade from Michael Vaughan to accomplish the feat. No doubt motivated by his new responsibilities, as much as the flawed team he picked for this game, Vaughan batted in resolute fashion for the best part of seven-and-a-half hours to make 105 on Saturday. It was his 10th Test century and one he later described as the finest of his career.

“For the period I batted and the position we were in on a fifth-day pitch facing Muttiah Muralidharan, I’d say it was my best hundred to date,” said Vaughan after the escape. “Although I’ve been used to scoring in a free manner in the last couple of years, I knew I was going to have to dig in and play a long innings. Thankfully we’ve come out with a good draw.”

For those who marvelled at Vaughan’s hundreds in Australia a year ago, this was an ugly duckling, though an innings that allowed England to travel to Colombo with a chance of winning a series that looked Sri Lanka’s from the moment they won the toss in the first Test at Galle. Vaughan’s innings lasted 333 balls, and he looked set to see his team through until the slightest error of judgment against Murali’s Doosra — a leg-break with off-spin action — brought his downfall.

Although not quite capturing the imagination as Michael Atherton’s heroic 10-hour vigil did in Johannesburg eight years ago, Vaughan’s knock had an evocative quality to it — the combination of epic quest and self-denial being reinforced by the pain of a hamstring strain he reckons should be fine before the final Test starts on Thursday.

As was the case in the draw at Galle, trusty sherpas helped to carry the fight, which hung in the balance over a tense final session once the captain was seventh man out 40 minutes after tea. With 25 overs remaining, Chris Read and Gareth Batty saw out the second nail-biter in eight days.

Every ball survived became a triumph that brought huge cheers from the 2,000-strong England support. Vaughan said: “I didn’t know if we’d save it when we started the day, but I knew the team was going to scrap hard and that’s what we did. We just made it very difficult for them.”

With a half-century in the first innings, Vaughan enjoyed a marvellous match, a claim that could not be made on behalf of his opposite number Hashan Tillekeratne, who did not deserve to win the match after showing as much adventure as Captain Pugwash.

When the final day’s play began, England were two wickets down and 279 runs in arrears. Only Ian Botham, at his most optimistic, would have contemplated the win. Yet, until Vaughan was seventh man out 40 minutes after tea, Tillekeratne had at least four men on the boundary. It was an unacceptably negative tactic, even without a bowler of Murali’s verve, let alone one producing 40 per cent of the overs.

Tillekeratne’s failure to attack with extra men round the bat allowed England plenty of gaps to rotate the strike and prevent pressure being exerted on one batsman by the same bowler. It also meant that the support bowlers to the big two Murali and Chaminda Vaas were not made to focus on taking wickets, but merely to keep it tight — a role of pathetically low ambition.

Tillekeratne’s lack of boldness brought frustration to his team. As the overs ticked by, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillekeratne Dilshan were warned by umpire Daryl Harper for excessive appealing. At times, the squawking around the bat sounded more like primal scream therapy than the polite inquiries of yore, but the warning was not an official one. Match Referee Clive Lloyd took no action.

Wicketkeeper Sangakkara is a trained lawyer and has a sharp line in needle. On Saturday he sang the Everly Brothers song Bye Bye Love to Nasser Hussain when he first came in to bat. The singing stumper barely had time to clear his throat on Saturday before Hussain, nibbling at one from Vaas in the opening over of the day, became the second ‘Hussein’ to be caught unprepared.

The Daily Telegraph

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