Ali’s Headingley resistance in vain as Sri Lanka win with penultimate ball

England's Moeen Ali stands dejected as Sri Lanka celebrate.
England's Moeen Ali stands dejected as Sri Lanka celebrate.
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LAST winter, England were battered in Brisbane, annihilated in Adelaide, pulverised in Perth, mauled in Melbourne and spanked in Sydney.

Now they have been humbled at Headingley after losing their first home Test series to Sri Lanka.

If the 5-0 Ashes whitewash was bad, this, in many ways, was no improvement.

Against a workmanlike Sri Lanka team, a team that went into the series ranked seventh in the world, England were embarrassed in their own backyard, falling to fifth in the global rankings.

Beneath slate-grey skies as though summoned to script, death was an impossibly drawn-out affair.

England resumed on 57-5, needing another 293 to record their highest run-chase, but it was 7.05pm when the last wicket fell, James Anderson fending the penultimate ball from Shaminda Eranga to Rangana Herath at short backward-square.

Anderson sank to his knees in despair, reprising Brett Lee’s pose after the 2005 Edgbaston Ashes Test.

This time there was no Andrew Flintoff to provide consolation, and Anderson betrayed his disappointment when he shed tears at the post-match presentation after being named England’s man-of-the-series.

Throughout a tense and thrilling last day, one man stayed resolute for England.

Moeen Ali – aka “The Beard That’s Feared” – showed why he is such a formidable proposition with an unbeaten 108, his maiden Test hundred.

He batted throughout the day, his temperament every bit as impressive as his technique.

Just as Ali did not deserve to be on the losing side, so Dhammika Prasad and Herath merited their place on the triumphant combination.

Prasad, the 31-year-old fast-medium bowler, took a career-best 5-50 and Herath, the 36-year-old left-arm spinner, 3-39 as England were dismissed for 249. Prasad took four of his wickets the previous evening, when England’s goose was effectively cooked, and added the key one yesterday of Matt Prior.

No side has ever saved a Test after starting day five with five wickets down or more, and Sri Lanka had to work incredibly hard.

No wickets fell in the first 70 minutes, at which point rain forced an early lunch but did not reduce the number of overs.

Ali and Joe Root – who started the day unbeaten on six – showed great discipline to frustrate the tourists, who resorted to sledging, particularly against Root.

Steve Davis and Billy Bowden, the umpires, told them to stop, and it was somewhat sad to see the likes of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene joining in the verbal jousts. Just when it looked as though that would be the only way Sri Lanka would force a wicket, Root fell at 2.30pm when he was caught in the gully off Nuwan Pradeep.

The Yorkshireman was trying to whip through mid-wicket after battling his way to 31, his stand with Ali worth 67 in 31 overs.

Prasad had Prior caught fending to short-leg just before tea, the bowler receiving the benefit of the doubt from Paul Reiffel, the television umpire, after coming agonisingly close to delivering a no ball, before Herath had Chris Jordan and Stuart Broad lbw.

There were 20.2 overs left when Anderson came in, but the man who faced 53 balls at Cardiff to help save the 2009 Ashes Test was unable to work another miracle.

Yorkshire last night confirmed their NatWest T20 Blast match against Lancashire at Headingley on Friday is a 16,200 sell-out.