Graeme Swann has backed England to make their highest-ever fourth-innings chase after declaring “history is there to be rewritten”.
England need to reach 340 to win the first Test against Sri Lanka, eight more than their best successful chase against Australia in 1928.
Swann has little regard for past form, though, and has backed his side to record a famous win.
They were due to resume on the fourth morning on 111-2, with Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen in position.
“I’d say we’re just favourites,” he said.
“I don’t like statistics. Just because somebody won a game in 1912 chasing 290 or someone got 350 in the Kerry Packer era doesn’t mean anything. This is 2012. History is there to be rewritten.
“I don’t think we need any genius, I think we just need a bit of good old fashioned rolling your sleeves up and getting your head down.
“The way KP and Trotty batted at the end is exactly what we need to do (today).
“They got their heads down, they kept out the good ones, they made batting look as serene as it’s going to get out there.
“People who actually apply themselves are hard to shift on that pitch.”
Swann, who had completed his 12th five-wicket haul earlier in the day, is England’s most ready optimist but even he admitted a sense of frustration had crept in at the end of the Sri Lanka innings.
The last two wickets yielded a total of 87 runs, with 46 added after a no-ball denied Stuart Broad the final scalp.
“Sure there have been moments of frustration,” he said.
“That next 40 minutes (after the no-ball) hurt a little bit. You’re looking at a chase of 285, 290 and thinking ‘we’re going to win this’. At 340, you think it’s maybe tipped back to a 50:50 game.
“Those 40-odd runs were very hot and bothering for all the fielders, as you saw because we were at each other’s necks by the end.”
Swann believes England’s first-innings horror show – they mustered just 193 between them on a pitch from which Mahela Jayawardene had milked 180 – will inspire them to do better this time.
He said: “We’re all disappointed with the first innings. To make the whole innings last 40-odd overs just wasn’t acceptable and that’s not just the top six, that’s all 11 players.
“But the way we bounced back from that proved this team doesn’t dwell on things that are in the past.
“We probably had our best session of the winter after that, getting five wickets. That’s a signal of the strength of this team.”
Sri Lanka wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene, who made a momentum-shifting half-century at the end of the Sri Lankan innings, is confident the hosts can see England off for the second time.
“We have the psychological advantage because they need to score more than 300,” he said.
“We have to be patient and do the basics well to get wickets (this morning).
“We have a big chance but we have to come out and bowl well.”
Sri Lanka began the day 209 ahead at 84-5.
Quick wickets to leave a chase of under 250 were England’s dual aims but they were forced to wait for the breakthrough as Dinesh Chandimal and nightwatchman Suraj Randiv added 30 runs.
Chandimal produced an ugly swipe to hand Monty Panesar his first wicket and Randiv’s hour-long stay ended when Swann won a marginal lbw verdict.
At 127-8, the end seemed in sight but Jayawardene had other ideas.
With Chanaka Welegedara in support, he teased the lead to 276 at lunch. The pair added a vital 40 before Panesar found Welegedara’s edge and Strauss took a smart catch.
Five balls later came Broad’s no-ball nightmare. He thought he had Jayawardene caught and bowled but saw the decision reversed after replays showed he had overstepped.
England debated appealing for the run out but received no encouragement from the umpires.
Jayawardene made good use of his luck, hitting three sixes – including a muscular pull off Broad to go to a potentially match-winning half-century.
The new ball was taken in the 80th over but it took a run out to end the innings at 214.
Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss both got off the mark with trademark cuts for four and reached tea on 27 without loss after seven overs.
Just one of those had been bowled by England’s first-innings nemesis Herath, though, and he was quick to make his mark at the start of the evening’s play.
Cook was the man out, for 14, Herath having his appeal for caught behind confirmed only after calling for DRS.
Trott also sent a leading edge just over Herath’s head as England’s trial by spin resumed.
Strauss, for the second time, failed the test. Out sweeping in the first innings, he opted to come down the track to Herath but dragged tamely to Tillakaratne Dilshan at short mid-wicket. The captain’s score of 27 continued a worrying recent trend of getting out when seemingly established.
Mahela Jayawardene turned up the heat on Trott and new man Pietersen, giving both Dilshan and Randiv four close catchers on the leg-side. A flurry of boundaries in the last half-hour brought up the 50 partnership and the England 100, with both men doing a good job of controlling conditions.