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England in strong position to square Sri Lanka series

KANDY, Sri Lanka, March 9 (AFP) - England fought back superbly Friday to put themselves in sight of beating Sri Lanka in the second Test and levelling the series at one apiece with one to play.

After compiling a first innings lead of 90, the English bowlers ran amok through a hapless Sri Lanka leaving the home side tottering at 98 for six at the end of the third day.

Sri Lanka, who made 297 runs in their first innings, finished the day leading by a slender eight runs with only four wickets in hand and two full days of play left.

England were dismissed just before tea for 387 in their first innings.

Kumar Sangakkara was the only Sri Lankan batsman to show any mettle hitting an unbeaten 47 that included eight fours.

The hosts were once again victims of poor umpiring decisions that are threatening to overshadow the series.

After Marvan Atapattu edged a Darren Gough delivery to wicket-keeper Alec Stewart off the fourth ball, skipper Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva both fell in succession to questionable decisions.

Jayasuriya was given out on nought, caught by Graham Thorpe off Andy Caddick. Replays suggested that he played the ball into the ground before it was snapped up.

De Silva received his marching orders on one when a ball appeared to brush his forearm after he tried to avoid a rising delivery from Gough.

Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene added 39 for the fourth wicket, before Jayawardene played onto a Craig White delivery to leave Sri Lanka lurching at 42 for four.

Russel Arnold joined Sangakkara at the crease and the pair batted confidently putting on 39 runs until Arnold was given out lbw to Robert Croft at full stretch for 22.

Croft struck another vital blow when Tillekeratne Dilshan nicked an outside edge to Graeme Hick at slip for nought.

Kumar Dharmasena survived the remaining 13 minutes with Sangakkara.

England started the day at 249 for five and were helped to their 387 all out by Alec Stewart who stroked his 36th Test fifty.

The former England captain batted 219 minutes and faced 159 balls for his 54, which comprised eight fours.

His 87-run partnership with Craig White, who scored a useful 39, equalled the sixth wicket record for England versus Sri Lanka recorded by Allan Lamb and Richard Ellison at Lord's in 1984.

The last wicket pair of Croft and Gough also frustrated the Sri Lankan spin bowlers with a useful stand of 41 runs from 57 minutes.

Sri Lanka had to finally fall back on the pace bowling of Chaminda Vaas to break the last wicket stand. Vaas had Gough trapped lbw for 10, leaving Croft unbeaten on 33, having batted for 89 minutes.

Off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan bowled a marathon 63 overs to finish with figures of four for 127, while left-arm spinner Jayasuriya took three for 76.

Sri Lanka lead the series 1-0 having won the first Test at Galle by an innings and 28 runs.

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