England quicks outdone by nation of spinners - Jonathan Agnew

By Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent
Stuart Broad (left) and James Anderson appeal in vain for a wicket on the fourth day against Sri Lanka
Stuart Broad and James Anderson had a frustrating fourth day against Sri Lanka

From an England perspective, the fourth day of the second Test against Sri Lanka was entirely deflating and leaves the home side facing defeat in a match they had no right to lose.

That they will now be beaten in both the Test and the series is a result of a first-innings collapse and some really poor bowling.

In both matches, England have been in winning positions but, bruised from their 5-0 Ashes humiliation, this developing side simply have not had the confidence to nail them down.

In the first Test at Lord's, a first-innings lead was undermined by a collapse on the fourth afternoon that ultimately left England short of time to bowl Sri Lanka out on the final day.

And here at Headingley, they slumped from 278-2 to 365 all out in the first innings, let Sri Lanka post 457 in their second, then crumbled to 57-5 in their chase of 350.

To take the bowling first, I never thought I would find myself saying that Sri Lanka's pace bowlers had shown England's quicks how to bowl at Headingley, the home of English seam bowling.

Put simply, England's pacers have been outperformed by a nation of spin bowlers. There was some talk about this Sri Lanka attack being no better than a county side. Maybe a county attack would have bowled better than England on that pitch today.

There was seam, swing and the odd hint of uneven bounce to be had on the fourth day. But, Liam Plunkett aside, a pace quartet that also contains James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Jordan has been way below par.

Plunkett has run in hard and bowled with hostility, but Anderson has bowled too short, Broad has taken a hat-trick but nothing else and Jordan will end the Test wicketless.

Back from the brink
Only once have Sri Lanka overturned a first-innings deficit of more than 100 to win a Test

Some may criticise England's tactics today, and they certainly contributed to their problems. By dropping men back in the hope that Angelo Mathews would surrender the strike to Rangana Herath during the early part of the Sri Lanka pair's eight-wicket stand of 149, England had nowhere else to go when the plan did not work.

Captain Alastair Cook might also have opted to use the spin of Moeen Ali earlier, but he could have justifiably expected his pace bowlers to do the job and they failed him.

None of this should take anything away from the efforts of Mathews, who made a wonderful 160.

Not only did he negotiate the strike, but the Sri Lanka captain also hit boundaries with cavalier regularity. It was a serious innings delivered in a calm, patient, assured manner.

In Herath, he found a tail-end ally who made an immense contribution. Herath is clearly no mug, demonstrated by the fact he settled in for nearly three hours. It was quite brilliant.

Their efforts were in contrast to England's performance with the bat, which cracked under the pressure applied by Dhammika Prasad, bowling the sort of line and length of which England were incapable.

Cook's dismissal typifies where his game is at the moment. The image of him staring back at his broken stumps after bottom-edging a pull at such a wide ball encapsulated his predicament.

Gary Ballance was unfortunate - anyone can get a first baller - while Ian Bell got a beauty. In between, Sam Robson played a poor shot to edge to second slip.

But it was all summed up by Plunkett, the nightwatchman, scooping Herath's spin to cover when he should have been blocking out the final over.

It was a hideous end to a hideous day.