England recovered from two crucial blows to stay afloat in their tough run chase to win the first cricket Test against Sri Lanka here yesterday.

Graeme Swann

The tourists, set a history-defying target of 340, reached 111 for two by stumps on the third day on a dry pitch that has made batting progressively difficult.

The world number one Test side lost openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook cheaply, before Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen repaired the damage by adding 63 for the unbroken third wicket.

Jonathan Trott plays one down the leg side in Galle yesterday. Pic/AFP

Trott was unbeaten on 40 and Pietersen was on 29, with England still needing 229 runs with eight wickets in hand to win the Test and take the lead in the two-match series.

England, who will slip to number two behind South Africa if they lose the series, have never chased down such a big fourth-innings target before in their Test history.

Their highest successful chase is 332-7 against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground way back in 1928. In Asia, it is 209-1 against Bangladesh in Dhaka in March, 2010.

England's task has been made tougher since 253 is the highest fourth-innings total made at the Galle International Stadium.

England off-spinner Graeme Swann, who claimed six wickets in Sri Lanka's second innings total of 214, dismissed suggestions that history, was not on his team's side.

"History is meant to be re-written," said Swann. "This is 2012. It does not matter what happened years ago.
"I would say we are the favourites. We just need a bit of old fashioned grit to win from here. Keep out the good balls and wait for the loose ones.

"It's a good pitch to bowl on, its also a good pitch to bat on. If people apply themselves and put their heads down, they will be hard to dismiss."