Sri Lanka 218-6, lead England by 33 after 4 days
By KRISHAN FRANCIS
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) Offspinner Graeme Swann took two wickets in three balls of the penultimate over on the fourth day to put England on a strong footing for a series-levelling win against Sri Lanka on Friday.
After captain Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera shared 90 runs for the fifth wicket to rescue their team from a vulnerable 125-4, Sri Lanka slumped to 218-6 at the close at P. Sara Oval.
The home side led by 33 but it has to survive three sessions on the final day with only four wickets in hand.
Sri Lanka could still hope for a draw and a first series victory in three years with two specialist batsmen at the crease and wicketkeeper-batsman Prasanna Jayawardene to come.
But England was still in control after Swann's late pair, and favored to draw the two-match series, end a four-test losing streak, and retain its No. 1 ranking in tests.
Jayawardene was unbeaten on 55 batting with Angelo Mathews on 3. Samaraweera was out for 47.
Swann returned 4-82 off 26 overs.
England wicketkeeper Matt Prior admitted Jayawardene and Samaraweera frustrated the visitors, but they also believed victory was in their grasp.
"It was a tough day, frustrating at times, but I think the way we stuck to our guns was absolutely fantastic and I think we deserved that couple of wickets at the end there to put us in a strong position for tomorrow," Prior said.
"We'll back ourselves to chase whatever they set. But first and foremost we have to take the four wickets. Hopefully we'll be chasing less than 150, but we know we've got the ability in the dressing room to chase down anything."
Sri Lanka batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan said though England had the advantage, Sri Lanka could still win.
"If we bat out the first session there is a good chance we may even win this match. 130-140, it's not an easy wicket, it has turn and bounce and we believe we can win this match."
Jayawardene and Samaraweera continued their good form from the first innings in which they scored 105 and 54 runs respectively, sharing a 124-run stand after the team was 30-3.
Jayawardene's patient 157-ball innings so far has included four boundaries, while Samaraweera spent 139 balls and also hit four to the boundary.
Their dogged partnership put Sri Lanka in front and stifled England for most of the final session.
England took the second new ball after 80 overs in the hope that the seamers could bring the breakthrough they desperately needed.
Without success after nine overs, England captain Andrew Strauss handed the ball to Swann and reaped immediate results.
The offspinner's first ball was short and Samaraweera tried to cut close to his body and was bowled off the inside edge. Two balls later, Swann bowled would-be nightwatchman Suraj Randiv through bat and pad.
Swann, despite being unlucky on two occasions when straight chances were missed off his bowling, netted the big wickets of Dilshan (35) and Kumar Sangakkara (21) in the second session after Sri Lanka fought well to reach 84-2 at lunch.
Dilshan was ruled out under controversial circumstances when TV umpire Rod Tucker upheld onfield umpire Bruce Oxenford's decision that Dilshan was caught at slip by James Anderson. Dilshan reviewed the decision because he felt that he had not edged the ball to the pad before it went to Anderson's hands. However, Dilshan was ruled out despite inconclusive evidence.
He said he was convinced he did not edge the ball.
"I know 100 percent that I did not edge, that's why I went for a review straight away," he said. "But you have got to accept the umpire's decisions."
Four runs later Swann got a delivery to turn across Sangakkara and found a thin edge to wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
Sangakkara made 21 in another poor show with the bat. He has totaled 35 in four innings, including two first-ball ducks.
Resuming day four at 4-0, opener Lahiru Thirimanne was the first batsmen to be dismissed, caught at slip by Strauss off seamer Anderson. He failed to capitalize on a reprieve earlier when Prior missed a stumping chance off Swann.
Again, Swann was the unlucky bowler when nightwatchman Dhammika Prasad was dropped at mid-off by Finn, who later made amends with the ball having the batsman miscue a pull shot for a catch by Tim Bresnan at fine leg for 34.
Meanwhile, Dilshan was fined 10 percent of his match fee after admitting to excessive appealing and celebrating a dismissal before the umpire's verdict during England's first innings on Thursday.
Updated April 6, 2012