Cook, showers keep Lanka at bay

Published: Friday, December 21, 2007, 15:40 [IST]
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Heavy rain and an unbeaten half-century from Alastair Cook kept England's hopes alive of saving the third and final Test against Sri Lanka here.

The tourists, forced to follow-on 418 runs behind, moved their second innings from the overnight score of 2-0 to 102-1 by lunch on the fourth day before rain washed out the rest of play.

The downpour began five minutes before lunch and showed no signs of abating, forcing the umpires to abandon play at 15:00 pm (0930 GMT) at the Galle International Stadium.

Sri Lanka, who lead 1-0 in the series, have three sessions on the final day -- weather permitting -- to force a 2-0 scoreline that will lift them to second place in the official Test rankings behind Australia.

The hosts will be wary of early celebrations as continued bad weather has been forecast for Saturday.

Left-hander Cook was unbeaten on 53 and Ian Bell was on 17 as England engineered a remarkable recovery after being shot out for 81 in their first innings on Thursday, their lowest total against Sri Lanka.

Cook, the 22-year-old Essex opener, and captain Michael Vaughan gave England a solid start by adding 67 for the first wicket.

Vaughan made a watchful 24 when a flashy stroke caused his dismissal 90 minutes after the start of play.

Vaughan attempted to drive left-arm seamer Chanaka Welegedara outside the off-stump and only managed to edge a catch to his counterpart Mahela Jayawardene at second slip.

Cook, who made 81 and 62 in the drawn second Test in Colombo, overcame his captain's loss to tackle both pace and spin skillfully on the dual-paced wicket.

He punished Welegedera and Chaminda Vaas with forceful boundaries in front of the wicket and defended stoutly against the spin of Muttiah Muralitharan.

Muralitharan, Test cricket's leading bowler with 720 wickets, was kept at bay by the England batsmen for nine overs in which the off-spinner conceded 22 runs.

Cook admitted the rain provided a welcome relief for the tourists but hoped his side can battle on when play resumes on Saturday.

"The rain is good news to be honest," he said. "It has taken two sessions out of the game and we are on a mission to save the Test.

"But then everyone can say the rain helped us. We as a team are desperate to prove we can come through it.

"Selfishness at the crease will help the side. Everyone loves to score runs and make hundreds. We need to make sure of our mental approach once we get to 50 or 60.

"Let us get the big scores. There are still seven hours of cricket tomorrow and it will still going to be tough out there."

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