There’s something about Headingley, where magical things happen every once in a while - be it 2005 Ashes or the 2019 Ben Stokes miracle - but this has to top it all. Sri Lanka have a real opportunity of sealing a historic heist-like series win in England, a country which has always haunted them.
It is June 14, 2014, we are here at Headingley in Leeds, where the odds are yet again heavily stacked against the hosts. The weather too signals a rather bleak and grey image but it’s the United Kingdom, you sure don’t expect the sun to shine. Similarly, the crowd is rallying behind the two Three Lions’ stars - James Anderson and Moeen Ali - as they storm the weather to take England to a draw with just one over left in the day. At the other end, Angelo Mathews seems to be tired more than ever but throws his final dice to Shaminda Eranga to come up with the goods.
One over of defence will complete the block-a-thon, just two years after Faf du Plessis achieved one in Adelaide. And yet one good over for the visitors would complete a rare dream-come-true moment for them. This is the beauty of the game, everyone watching it on the television surely are snacking their nails out and the ones in Sri Lanka, waiting for a good relaxed and happy night’s sleep, knowing that they have gone past the English shore and come up victorious. But it isn’t over, at least yet. So what has brought us here in the first place?
The first Test at the Home of Cricket really set the tone for the series. Two teams, at the opposite end of the spectrum, took on each other. At one end, there was Stuart Broad and James Anderson licking their lips in relief and at the other, the Sri Lankan pacers, who finally got a surface that will aid them more than the subcontinent. But a bowling attack of Nuwan Kulasekara, Nuwan Pradeep and Shaminda Eranga really doesn’t quite warrant the same status, which helps us dive straight into the series.
Chasing 390 isn’t everyone’s breakfast and neither was Sri Lanka’s, who struggled big-time during the run chase. Kaushal Silva and Kumar Sangakkara hung on but once they were back, it was England all the way. Yet Angelo Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene stalled time, absorbing the overs to take the visitors to a draw - nearly! Two quick dismissals later, there were two overs and the Island nation, with two wickets left. But they held on and Shaminda Eranga stayed put for six deliveries during 17 anxious minutes he stayed at the crease. It was evident that the series was going to be a close one, it wasn’t a leftover for the Three Lions.
So when we reached the final over this time around, everything swapped, it was Eranga who wanted to land six deliveries on point and Anderson who was saving the Test for England. But Sri Lanka’s hopes of salvaging something from the Test was dashed when they were bowled out for a mere 257. Even Kumar Sangakkara, who had plenty of county experience, could only score 79, while the tail lasted less than eight overs, which included a Broad hattrick, that was swept under the carpet of talks.
Sam Robson nearly played half of Sri Lanka’s entire innings, scoring as many runs. That combined with the rest of the hosts’ batting unit, England were ahead, miles ahead, with a 108-run lead. The series in more ways than one reminded the visitors of their visit in 2006, where they were left empty-handed after losing the second Test but that team had Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan in their bowling ranks.
Empty-handed as they were left on that day in 2006 but certainly plenty of lessons, that they had certainly learnt. So when it came to the second innings, it would have been a stern dressing room talk that propelled a quick turn around. There were no more the fidgety Lankans who took the field but rather one that was chalk and cheese level different. They didn’t look like ducks anymore; they looked like geese, golden ones. But all those talks lasted 35 overs before reality made a return - they were two down, in a similar position to their first innings. The hopes were slowly withering away and becoming a distant dream.
Jayawardene and Mathews turned that around, and before the English bowlers sat to eat their suppers, they realised that 214/4 could really turn into a 457, which it eventually did, as Mathews scored a scintillating 160, the best for the Islanders in quite some time. The innings reassured that everything was in balance, the game, the Sri Lankan spirit and certainly the crowd, who were gulping enough alcohol. It wasn’t a high or a hangover, England really needed 350 runs on the last one and half days of play.
For Dhammika Prasad and co, they really had to step up their game. Personally, for the right-arm pacer, he had picked just one wicket in the first innings, combined with a second-innings duck, which put him under immense pressure. At 5/57, Dhammika had four, England were in tatters and Sri Lanka, one sleep away from a victory, right? This game, this series and the entire rivalry is not for the faint-hearted, both of whom had made tea their own.
One certain Moeen Ali was confident that the game wasn’t for faint-hearted, scoring one of the best centuries, in a situation that wasn’t as ideal for the hosts. They were certainly out of tweets, words and possibly even commentary to describe the innings. It was a calculated method of madness, a freakish classic and an ‘I save for the country’ innings at its highest order. But could others hold on? They did, Prior - 32 deliveries; Jordan - 72 deliveries and Broad - 24. Not enough!
Almost 20 overs left in the day, it was the last partnership for the hosts, the sun had already started to go down, signalling the dying hopes. The Islanders were trying their best, at times more than required with Mahela Jayawardene getting the ball but with 10 overs to spare, England’s hopes were back. And with four overs, Sri Lanka didn’t give up, such was the encounter, as Dhammika was still on, bowling at the highest pace. It certainly looked like a flat fifth-day pitch but Mathews was losing hopes, even bringing himself into the attack.
None worked and then, there we are, two overs left. Prasad on and game wide open but England blocked everything seemingly coming their way. And here we are, the final over of the innings, Sri Lanka’s entire hopes had to be shouldered by Eranga. Six overs were now six deliveries and hopes were slowly dashed when it became two. Ali had somehow put Anderson on strike for the last over, he had stood right in his crease, curbing his instinct. Two deliveries, would Anderson become a monk or Eranga, a Sri Lankan hero?
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