Fourth day: Sri Lanka lead England by 22 runs with four second-innings wickets remaining
England have only themselves to blame for poor catching if Sri Lanka escape with a draw, due to the loss of 26 overs yesterday because of bad light, and the threat of rain today.
Mahela Jayawardene's 14th century for his country deserves something and the new captain is proving as big a stumbling block to England's bowlers as has India's Rahul Dravid in recent years.
He notched his fourth hundred against England and completed 1,000 runs against them in only his 11th Test. Like Dravid, whose nickname is The Wall, he was an immovable obstacle for most of this match.
He was finally given out, caught down the leg side off Andrew Flintoff, although he was unconvinced about the decision. The captain was dropped by Andrew Strauss off the bowling of Matthew Hoggard when the second new ball was taken at midday when he was 58 and Andrew Flintoff will know his butter-fingered slip cordon prevented a four-day victory, the weather notwithstanding.
England practise slip catching for at least half-an-hour each day, so how do you explain the spilling of four catches in that area, two by Strauss who has pulled off some stunners in his two years as a Test player?
Saturday's pair of drops cost at least an hour and 40 runs while the Strauss miss followed the failure of Paul Collingwood to hold on to a much more difficult high catch off Flintoff in the next over. Those errors made the world of difference.
Sri Lanka were, thus, luckily rewarded with a wicketless morning while England knew that Jayawardene and nightwatchman Farvez Maharoof should have been out, with the probability that the knock-on effect of five wickets down with 50 minutes to survive before lunch against a potent new-ball attack could have led to a victory before tea.
A scoreline of 236 for five thus turned into one of 303 for five 20 overs later, with an increasingly frustrated home attack losing shape under Flintoff's tactical approach, which became less than inspiring. He permed his four quick bowlers for far too long, ignoring his spin alternative until well into the afternoon.
Liam Plunkett was easily the pick in a good morning spell from the Nursery end in which he beat the bat a dozen times without reward. So well did he bowl that Flintoff rightly delayed the taking of the second new ball for a couple of overs as the fourth-wicket pair struggled away. Both played well for the second time in the match and Maharoof is an authentic No 7 or No8.
His bowling has not been up to much here but he watches the ball, stands up to the short stuff and smacks the ball nicely through the covers. His concentration never wavered and he reached 50 with a magnificent hooked six into the stands.
With his captain looking as though he would never get out, the first-innings arrears of 359 were reduced to under three figures when Sajid Mahmood burst on the scene for the second time in the match with two quick wickets.
He had been carted for two fours when a short wide one was hit straight to Kevin Pietersen at cover to end a fourth-wicket partnership of 113 off 40 overs. That modest run-rate speaks volumes about the application of both batsmen - a quality notably lacking in the next man in, Thilan Samaraweerea.
He has scored five Test centuries - one against England in Colombo - and should have been prepared to sell himself dearly, with 56 still needed to make England bat again. Not so, as he waved expansively at a wide one from Mahmood which bounced and Geraint Jones did the rest. He must have walked back into a pretty quiet dressing-room.
Tillekeratne Dilshan offered sterner resistance and helped Jayawardene to take the score to 369 before a second interruption for bad light cost another hour.
Something had fired up Flintoff and he gaffed the big fish within 15 minutes. A short one nipped back and Jayawardene could only deflect it leg-side, low to Jones. It was a reprise of the Mike Kasprowicz dismissal at Edgbaston last summer and a fitting catch for the Kent man's 100th Test victim.
His critics argue that he could have passed the landmark several Tests ago but for missed chances. The batsman rubbed his ribs as though bat and glove were away from the ball but umpire Aleem Dar had no doubt.
Play continued for another 15 minutes before the light worsened and fingers will be crossed this morning that the threatened rain stays away.
When the players went off in mid-afternoon for the second stoppage, a pleasant sight was to see Pietersen stay on the outfield for 20 minutes and sign every autograph book for crowds of youngsters.