Tourists Take Test Series
Moeen Ali’s valiant maiden international ton was in vain, as Sri Lanka won their first Test series in England with a nail-biting victory, dramatically secured from the penultimate ball at Headingley.
For the second time in two Tests, after the hosts had failed to take the final Sri Lanka wicket at Lord’s eight days ago, the action went down to the wire.
Today Moeen and last man James Anderson joined forces with more than 20 overs to go and, after the former brought up his milestone, they were separated at 7.07pm by Shaminda Eranga.
Anderson, who played a key role in the last-wicket Ashes escape at Cardiff in 2009, withstood the tourists’ bowlers for 55 deliveries until fencing a bouncer to square-leg as the margin of victory was 100 runs.
Moeen’s monumental innings deserved better, but it could not prevent a 1-0 series loss as Sri Lanka prevailed in all formats on this tour and England slipped to fifth in the Test rankings.
The elegant left-hander batted all day to bring Alastair Cook’s side within a whisker of saving a game that they looked to have surrendered yesterday.
Moeen began his innings at the start of play, batting at seven after nightwatchman Liam Plunkett was last out yesterday, with England needing a theoretical 293 more to win.
Playing just his fourth format innings, he resisted constant pressure from the tourists to be unbeaten on 108 from 281 balls, featuring 17 fours.
The Worcestershire all-rounder shared fifty partnerships with Joe Root and Chris Jordan to frustrate Sri Lanka, who had England 57 for five overnight.
The stand with Root, either side of an 80-minute lunchtime rain delay that cost no overs, particularly got under the skin of touring captain Angelo Mathews who was spoken to by the umpires about sledging Root.
Having survived a short-pitched barrage, notably from Eranga, Root was held at gully from a full Nuwan Pradeep ball for 31, but Moeen went on to his half-century and survived an lbw review from Rangana Herath during an elongated afternoon session.
The 26-year-old held firm as Matt Prior fell to Dhammika Prasad, who therefore completed a five-wicket haul after blowing away the top order last evening.
Herath trapped Jordan and Stuart Broad in front after tea, the former for 21 and Broad for a 24-ball duck, with the second new ball. Jordan had been given a life on 12 by Eranga’s front-foot no-ball but eventually went despite a review.
Moeen had survived a second review, on 71, for caught behind down leg off Eranga when the ball missed his bat but brushed his leg on the way to wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal.
Although victory was no longer a prospect, when the chance came he continued to go for his shots, striking Herath over mid-on for a one-bounce four to move into the 90s. Sri Lanka then used their last review on Herath’s ambitious leg-before shout against Anderson.
Variable light dictated when Sri Lanka could bowl their seamers or had to use spin. However, the sun returned, allowing Mathews to choose any of his attack.
Moeen, who was content to play for the team as he sat in the 90s for almost 10 overs, glanced Pradeep to the fine-leg boundary for his hundred.
Mathews, man of the match for his Test-turning 160, was shuffling the pack in the last hour and, with Moeen only able to watch, it was Eranga that had the last word.
An emotional Anderson said: “We got quite close. “They’ve been tough pitches for us. We’ve tried our hearts out this series.”
England captain Alastair Cook said: “Moeen played an outstanding innings for a guy playing in his second Test like that. It bodes incredibly well for the future. Credit to Sri Lanka for the way they kept going today. They won the crucial moments. For eight days out of this series we’ve probably had the better of the days, but we haven’t been able to push home our advantage at crucial times.”
Of Sri Lanka’s first Test series win in England, Mathews said, “It means everything to be honest. People don’t expect that of us in England. We kept trying. We didn’t lose our belief. Until the last ball the game isn’t over. They pushed and played some really good cricket. Moeen batted brilliantly and Jimmy batted brilliantly.”
On veterans Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who may not play in England again, he added, “They are two of the best cricketers I’ve ever seen and two you want to have in the team. It’s a great send-off for them.”