Under-pressure skipper Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook hit gutsy half-centuries as England made a confident reply to Sri Lanka’s 275 in the second Test here yesterday.
The left-handed openers compiled a 122-run partnership as England combated Sri Lanka’s pace and spin attack to reach 154-1 by stumps on the second day at the P Sara Oval in Colombo.
Strauss, under fire for his batting and leadership skills, roared back to form with 61, before he attempted to cut off-spinner Tillakaratne Dilshan and edged a catch to the wicket-keeper in the final session.
Cook returned unbeaten on 77, but was fortunate to be still there after Lahiru Thirimanne floored a sharp chance at forward short-leg off Rangana Herath when the batsman was on 20.
Jonathan Trott was the other batsman at the crease, on 15, as the tourists trailed by just 121 runs on the first innings with nine wickets in hand.
England’s batting finally prospered in a match they must win to level the series and retain their number one ranking. Even a draw will see Strauss’ men slip to second spot behind South Africa.
Off-spinner Graeme Swann, who claimed four wickets in Sri Lanka’s innings, was delighted at his team’s batting response.
“It was important to start well and the score speaks for itself,” said Swann. “We are in a good position, but we’re not completely there. We need to push past their score. We’ve got to look for 400.”
Swann backs Strauss
Swann also backed Strauss, saying the long-awaited century from the skipper was not far away. “He proved himself today,” the spinner said. “He got another good start and he will be kicking himself he got a half-century and did not go on.
“The hundreds will come. Every time he bats he gets a start. He’s probably in one of those patches when you don’t quite perform as you want to.”
England’s openers resisted the temptation to play the dangerous sweep shot till the 39th over, when Strauss swept a wide ball from Suraj Randiv for a single, underlining the captain’s growing confidence.
As the batsmen pushed on, Cook was even emboldened to execute a reverse sweep off Herath which raced to the fence to bring up his 14th century partnership with Strauss.
Cook has so far hit seven boundaries, while Trott, who scored a century at Galle, looked solid as he played out the day. Earlier, Sri Lanka added 37 runs to their overnight score of 238-6 before they were all out 30 minutes before lunch. Swann claimed three of the four wickets to fall in the morning.