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All eyes will be on Muralitharan

By Ted Corbett

Sri Lanka 382 & 279 for 7 decl.
England 294 & 89 for 2

KANDY Dec. 13. A master-class from Michael Vaughan, the England captain, can snatch an unexpected victory in the second Test on Sunday but the more likely outcome is that Muttiah Muralitharan will spin Sri Lanka to victory long before England reaches the 360 it needs. It finished on 89 for two on Saturday.

Vaughan, who picked up from his fifty in the first innings, is clearly back to the form that gave him seven Test centuries in 2002.

He played Murali with consummate ease, drove through the covers with grace and appeared to be in total control even when he lost his opening partner Marcus Trescothick for 14 and Mark Butcher, stumped for the second time in the match, for six.

But, even though Vaughan has scored his second fifty of the match, who can make forecasts when Murali is flighting, floating and turning the ball? On Saturday, he was as much in charge as a child with a whipping top. The ball did his bidding, which always means that a wicket may fall at any minute.

England was batting for the second time just after tea with 138 overs in which to score its runs and although the occasional ball kept low, there was nothing wrong with the pitch.

Trescothick, looking in great form, was caught low in the slips by Mahela Jayawardene at 24 and Butcher almost as soon as Murali hit the bowling crease. The decision by the video umpire Peter Manuel was a close one; and of course there were the usual crop of controversial decisions.

I have lost count of the number of times that experienced Test players and umpires around me in the stand have screamed "How can that be not out?" The worst of the day gave a let-off to Nasser Hussain who looked to be plumb lbw to his first ball but Trescothick had been allowed to bat on after an appeal that was as close as you will get in Dinusha Fernando's first over.

By that time Tillekeratne Dilshan had set up the victory drive with a sublime century in 161 minutes to follow his top score of 63 in the first innings. He was into his stride as soon as he reached the crease, hit 13 fours fluently through both the offside and to leg and his fourth wicket stand of 153 with Mahela Jayawardene enabled Sri Lanka to reach 279 before Hashan Tillekeratne declared at tea.

Dilshan has not played Test cricket since England's last visit to Sri Lanka but none of his team-mates has exhibited more confidence nor struck the ball with silkier style. He raced ahead of Jayawardene, who is in pretty good form too, so that the senior batsman recognised that he must play the junior partner and concentrated on a support role rather than going for his shots.

Sri Lanka had begun the day at 39 for one and a lead of 127 and dressing room comment was that a lead of 350 would be its target.

The England fast bowler James Kirtley, whose action is once again under the eye of the match referee Clive Lloyd, soon had Sanath Jayasuriya leaving a gap between bat and pad and bowled for 27 and Ashley Giles had Kumar Sangakkara caught low down for ten.

Kirtley, a fine attacking bowler, has a slingy action which looks dreadful from side on but he has had one corrective course from ICC and it is difficult to see where his future lies.

When those two early wickets fell England seemed to be getting back into the game but that impression lasted no longer than it took for Dilshan to play his first shot or the town band to play their first few bars.

By lunch Sri Lanka was 174 for three and although both batsmen were out soon afterwards the pattern was set and a series of big blows from the lower middle order batsmen left England unable to control the scoring rate.

Giles, who now has 16 wickets in the two Tests, was England's most successful bowler with three for 101 and match figures of seven for 217, a vast improvement on his strike rate in Bangladesh where he experimented endlessly with his action.

He struck 17 times in Pakistan just ahead of the 2001 tour of Sri Lanka and seems sure to beat that in the third Test next week.

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