History weighs against England

Nothing inspires a bunch of batsmen more than the cold touch of the selectors’ axe on their necks. Set 340 to win by Mahela Jayawardena’s team, more than they have ever made in the fourth innings of a Test match before, England’s under pressure batsmen made a promising start, losing just two wickets on a day when, after the madness of the previous, the normal rhythms of sub-continental cricket returned.

Just seven wickets fell on the third day, as opposed to seventeen on the second, which suggests, at the very least, that the pitch is not getting worse, but before you get carried away, it needs to be said that the heavy weight of statistics and history are against England: no team has ever made more than 300 in Galle batting last; England have never made more than 250 here in any innings, and England’s record in fourth innings run chases in the sub-continent is poor.

Still, England’s situation is not without hope, something that the Sri Lankans evidently feel, too, given the deliberate way in which Tillakaratne Dilshan, the most street-smart of cricketers, felt the need to run all over the pitch on a spinner’s length at every opportunity. He did nothing that generations of cricketers have not done before, but that he felt the need to do so is instructive and suggests that Sri Lanka themselves know this pitch contains few demons………..

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