Opener Alastair Cook hit a defiant century before rain washed out the last session to help England draw the final cricket Test against Sri Lanka in Galle on Saturday.
Left-handed Cook made 118 as England, needing to bat out the fifth day after following on 418 runs behind, groped to 251-6 in their second innings when a heavy downpour ruined Sri Lanka’s hopes of victory.
Rain interrupted play for an hour after lunch, but a second wet spell in the post-tea session waterlogged the Galle International Stadium and forced the umpires to abandon the match with 35 overs remaining.
Sri Lanka took the series 1-0, having won the first Test in Kandy by 88 runs, but would have moved to second place behind Australia in the official rankings if they had secured a 2-0 score line.
Muttiah Muralitharan finished with three wickets, but the hero of the final day was young Essex opener Cook, who stood rock solid at the crease for six hours and 24 minutes to deny Sri Lanka victory.
”You can’t do anything about the weather, I have no complaints,” said Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene, who was named both player of the match and the series. ”I am very proud of my boys for the way they played in the series. We dominated right through and the seniors and juniors put their hands up to ensure we never let England off the hook.
”The consistency we showed was the key to our success. Hope we can continue that way in the new year.”
England captain Michael Vaughan conceded Sri Lanka were the better team and deserved to win the series.
”Throughout the whole series, we have been beaten by a better team,” said Vaughan. ”If we are honest, the rain saved us from a 2-0 defeat. We did start well in Kandy and I guess that is where the series was lost because we got into a good position but we could not make it work for us.
”I can’t fault the effort of the team, but there are a few areas we need to improve. We have enough talent; we just need a bit more expertise and I am sure we will put it right in 2008.”
Cook showed why he is rated as one of modern cricket’s most promising batsmen by scoring a seventh Test century before his 23rd birthday on Christmas Day.
Sachin Tendulkar of India and Pakistan’s Javed Miandad had scored seven tons by their 23rd year, while Australian legend Don Bradman had eight.
Cook scored England’s only century during the series, with Vaughan’s 87 in the drawn second Test in Colombo being the next-highest score.
Cook was, however, lucky to get that far after he was dropped down the leg-side by wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene off Lasith Malinga in the day’s second over when on 54.
England lost three wickets in four balls in the morning session to slip from a comfortable 200-2 to 202-5 by lunch before Matt Prior gave Cook company for two hours to add 50 for the seventh wicket.
Cook departed after tea, caught behind off debutant Chanaka Welegedara, but Prior remained unbeaten on a dour 19 before rain came to England’s rescue.
The overnight pair of Cook and Ian Bell put on 61 for the second wicket when Muralitharan bowled Bell for 34 with a ball that kept low on the dual-paced wicket.
Kevin Pietersen (30) helped Cook put on 72 for the third wicket before a dramatic over from Muralitharan 15 minutes before lunch left England in tatters.
Muralitharan dismissed Pietersen and Paul Collingwood in three balls before Ravi Bopara was run out off the last ball of that over to put Sri Lanka on top. — Sapa-AFP