When the most enthralling Test series of the last two decades are debated, one series that often escapes the discussion is England versus Sri Lanka in 2014. The series is not as well remembered as it should be, perhaps because it was a short contest – there were only two Tests.
Six years down the line, looking back at the series, you feel it deserves to be spoken about more. Both matches went down to the final over on day five with the result still in the balance – what more could you ask for?
It’s rare for away teams to win a Test series. In the aforementioned series, it was Sri Lanka who were the visitors coming out on top. They snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat in the first Test and followed that up with a memorable win with just one delivery remaining in the second match. It’s the only time Sri Lanka have won a Test series consisting of at least two matches in England. This fact surely only makes the series more special?
Coming into the series, England seemed a bit vulnerable after their 5-0 series loss Down Under a few months earlier. It was a crucial summer of cricket for the home side. Three years earlier, they had climbed to the top of the Test rankings and a year before, they had comfortably defeated Australia in a home Ashes series. But 2014 was going to be a summer of rebuilding.
There were a few fresh faces in the team – with as many as three players making their Test debuts for the hosts (Sam Robson, Moeen Ali and Chris Jordan) in the first Test at Lord’s.
England began the first Test positively, with Joe Root bringing up his first Test double hundred. In reply, Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews notched up centuries, but Sri Lanka still conceded a lead of over 100 runs. Guided by a Gary Ballance ton – the first of three he’d score that summer – England managed to set a target of 390 and Alastair Cook made an overnight declaration.
Winning the match from such a situation was a steep task for the away team. They had 90 overs to bat and their goal was to not lose the game. They managed to do so, but not without a day of drama.
Sri Lanka looked comfortably poised with five wickets in hand and only 12 overs left at one stage. Debutant Jordan then took the wicket of Prasanna Jayawardene which gave England hope. Within the next 10 overs, two more wickets had fallen – including the crucial one of Mathews. So, it was all down to the final over of the Test. England needed two wickets for a win. Stuart Broad had the ball in his hand with Sri Lanka’s numbers nine and ten at the crease.
Rangana Herath was dismissed off the first delivery, but replays showed that when the ball hit his glove, his hand wasn’t in contact with the bat. But amidst the tension, the veteran Sri Lankan cricketer did not use a review. There was more drama as Nuwan Pradeep was adjudged to have been leg-before-wicket off the fifth ball. England thought they had won the Test, but the decision was overturned by the third umpire after a review – there was an inside edge.
The drama didn’t end there. Broad found the outside edge of the bat off the final delivery, but the ball didn’t carry to Jordan at second slip. Thus, came to an end a captivating contest which held the attention of everyone who watched it to the very last second.
0-0 with everything to play for in the second Test at Headingley, Leeds.
Sri Lanka batted first on this occasion, but once again conceded a lead of over 100 runs. Liam Plunkett, who would later go on to become a limited-overs specialist for England, took his only five-wicket haul in Tests during the Sri Lankan innings. While Robson notched up a maiden Test hundred for the hosts, Shaminda Eranga and Mathews impressed with the ball for the visitors, taking four wickets each.
Mathews was in fine form, having amassed runs aplenty in red-ball cricket during the preceding six months. His wickets were a bonus and it probably boosted his confidence even further as he played a stunning knock in the second innings. Leading from the front, he scored 160 and propelled Sri Lanka to a total of 457. As a result, the target for England would be 350 and with more than a day of cricket left, every result was possible.
At the end of play on day four though, Sri Lanka seemed to have the game in the bag. A fantastic spell of bowling by Dhammika Prasad had reduced England to 57/5. Going into the final day, Mathews’ side needed just five wickets for a memorable series win while for the English, it was an uphill task to even save the game.
England didn’t go down easily. Root and Moeen Ali were defiant out in the middle and with rain lending them a helping hand, they managed to get to lunch without the loss of a wicket. The partnership lasted for 30 overs before Root finally had to make his walk back to the pavilion.
England possessed a lower-order that weren’t pushovers. Matt Prior was a fine batsman, Jordan was adequate with the bat and Broad had a Test hundred to his name. But despite their best efforts, Sri Lanka were only one wicket away from victory with just over 21 overs left.
For England, the Test seemed as good as lost, but Anderson – who once went 54 innings without a Test duck – did a magnificent job to not give his wicket away.
At the other end, Ali had brought up his first Test century. In just his second Test and under such trying circumstances, it was a magnificent effort from the England allrounder.
Just like the Lord’s Test, this one too came down to the final over. The tables, though, had turned. It was England who were attempting to save the Test while Sri Lanka were one wicket away from a famous victory.
Anderson had survived 50 deliveries heading into the final over and then successfully negated four more balls. In the first Test, the match seemed to have delivered a winner on the penultimate delivery before the on-field decision was overturned. This time around, there was a winner, full stop. Eranga’s excellent bouncer puzzled Anderson who couldn’t do much else but present a simple catch to Herath.
After salvaging a draw in the first Test by a whisker, Sri Lanka had won the second by a similar margin. In the six years since, England haven’t lost a single Test series at home which only goes to highlight the magnitude of Sri Lanka’s triumph in 2014.