Jayawardene exuded calm, recapturing the mood that brought him 180 in the first Test in Galle, with 105 stealthily assembled in more than five hours before Graeme Swann, straightening one from around the wicket, had him lbw, a decision upheld on review, and the slightest rustle of disbelief arose around the P Sara Oval at a rare misjudgement in an unblemished innings.
England dismissed Jayawardene with the second new ball imminent. They took it for the last nine overs and plucked out a sixth wicket when Steven Finn had Mahela’s namesake, Prasanna Jayawardene, caught at the wicket.
It was a reward for another disciplined bowling display, in which an increasingly resilient Finn proved he can now share, but the pitch already has a mosaic of cracks and, even allowing for its stultifying lack of pace, there is already ample evidence of uneven bounce and turn for the spinners. That will be enough to keep England’s sense of well-being in check.
Four successive Test defeats in Asia have encouraged ever-more defiant noises from England about how they must maintain their energy and trust their attacking instincts. Jayawardene showed them a different route, cajoling the Test gently towards him, displaying the virtues of patience and delicacy as his innings murmured along. He survived a drinks break on 99, removed his helmet to reveal his distinctive black head-covering and then clipped Samit Patel wristily wide of mid-on for his 31st Test century.
James Anderson gave England a flying start with three new-ball wickets in his first five overs, dismissing Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara in successive balls, but Jayawardene flicked the hat-trick ball to the fine leg boundary to get off the mark and, as determinedly as England tried to stem the flow of runs off his legs, settled in for the duration.
It was a sweltering day in Colombo with not as much relief from the gentle sea breezes that had been apparent in Galle; April, the month before the Yala monsoon finally breaks, when wealthier Colombo families head to the hills in search of relief and when to commit to any physical exertion was once regarded as akin to madness.
There was a time in his career when Anderson would have melted into insignificance in such conditions, cursing a slow pitch and the hot, viscous air, but these days he is a connoisseur of fast bowling and once again he rhythmically dismantled Sri Lanka’s top order. There was enough inconsistent bounce to sustain him and he caressed the new ball with the recognition that once it softened life would become much more onerous.
England had taken three Sri Lanka wickets for 15 and fewer in Galle and still lost, a statistic that it has been suggested is unique in Test history. It has been the same all winter for England: skilful, disciplined bowling followed by comedic batting. Anderson took his wickets with the air of a bowler who had come to understand that it guaranteed nothing.
Dilshan briefly flared, driving Anderson for successive offside boundaries. But Anderson compensated, yanked his length back a touch, Dilshan dabbled outside off stump and Matt Prior took a neat catch.
Sangakkara fell first ball, just as he had in the first innings in Galle, Anderson producing a perfect line and the edge flying to first slip where Strauss fumbled by his midriff but clawed the rebound back with his left hand. Strauss has entered the Test under the most pressure since he was appointed England’s captain three years ago: it was not the day to drop it.
Anderson’s third wicket, an ungainly leave-alone from Lahiru Thirimanne, with the decision, this time by the Australian Bruce Oxenford, again upheld on review, fleetingly took his average in his 68th Test below 30 for the first time since his debut summer nine years ago. By the close, it had crept beyond 30 once more, but it was a statistical reminder of his development.
When Thilan Samaraweera cut his first ball for four, Test cricket had clocked up its two millionth run (those who prefer not to include the Super Test between Australia and the Rest of the World will disagree). As Jayawardene peacefully built his score, in such heat it would be easy for a bowling attack to suspect that they had conceded most of them.
But England had a lucky mascot to sustain them. Tim Bresnan, playing his first Test of the winter after England omitted Monty Panesar, has been on the winning side in ten previous Tests and he found a hint of reverse swing to have Samaraweera lbw.
England made good use of the bouncer against Samaraweera, on a lifeless but uneven pitch. He was struck on the side of the helmet by Finn as he ducked a short ball that failed to get up. He looked briefly disorientated and England might have benefited from one of several ill-judged singles when Finn’s shy from mid-on could have run him out.
But tension at the end of an unsuccessful winter had been evident in the response of Andy Flower, England’s team director, when Samaraweera, on 34, survived a DRS appeal for a catch at short leg as a short ball from Steve Finn struck his thigh pad and found its way to Alastair Cook.
The not-out decision by umpire Asad Rauf was upheld after a lengthy delay, and innumerable replays, by the third umpire, Rod Tucker. There was no concrete evidence to overrule Rauf’s decision, however much there might have been suspicions of a hint of glove, but that did not stop Flower visiting the TV umpire’s room for an explanation and the cameras caught that, too, with his ill grace apparent.
Flower is not averse to a visit to the umpire’s room during play to press his case, although perhaps not as blatantly as his predecessor, Duncan Fletcher, whose psychological gambits can occasionally be of a style that would even make Sir Alex Ferguson take note.