Moeen Ali led a heroic rearguard action as England fell agonisingly short of a draw on a dramatic final day of the 2nd Investec Test against Sri Lanka.
Moeen batted all day as he reached his maiden Test hundred but was left heartbroken as Jimmy Anderson was dismissed by the penultimate ball of the day having seen off 54 deliveries.
Sri Lanka grasped what became an unlikely victory as Anderson fended a short ball from Shaminda Eranga to leg gully after an intense final 21 overs looked to have the game heading towards an unlikely draw.
The series victory marks Sri Lanka’s first ever series win over England in England and the delight was clear to see as the fielders made a rolling maul as they celebrated together.
England started the day 57-5, in pursuit of 350 after a remarkable Sri Lankan turnaround on the third and fourth days.
With England 311-3 in reply to Sri Lanka’s first innings total of 257, Angelo Mathews led the fightback as they reduced the home team to 365 all out, before they really took control of the game in the third innings.
Mathews hit a brilliant 160 as his side posted 457 and set England an unlikely target of 350 to win.
England’s reply never got going and they entered the final day already five wickets down, knowing that no side had ever saved a Test on the final day after starting it with five wickets gone.
Joe Root and Moeen batted for the first 30 overs of the day as the tension grew before the Yorkshire batsman was eventually caught at gully for 31.
Root had been in a constant battle with the Sri Lankan fielders, who were so determined to get under his skin the umpires were forced to intervene as tensions boiled over in a rain-affected morning session.
Moeen was then joined at the crease by Prior, but the wicketkeeper was undone by the short ball yet again and was on his way for 10 despite a marginal call for a front foot no ball as Sri Lanka inched towards victory.
Prior – England’s hero in a similar situation in Auckland last year when he saved the Test with an undefeated century – could only fend the short ball to short leg to bring Jordan to the crease.
The Worcestershire batsman meanwhile made serene progress as he reached his maiden Test half-century from 129 balls, mixing his usual elegance with a steely determination to try and halt the procession of English batsman going back to the pavilion.
Jordan survived being caught in the slips off a no ball before Rangana Herath had him trapped in front of the stumps for 21.
Broad came to the crease in poor light and he played the usual tricks to try and slow the game down but after seeing out 23 dot ball he was out on the 24th without scoring.
This left Anderson and Moeen to negotiate over 20 overs, with no one holding any real hope of a dramatic finish, but the pair defied the odds to see England to the brink of the draw before Anderson was dismissed in the cruellest of circumstance.
Moeen Ali reached his maiden Test century in just his second Test during the partnership but barely celebrated as he focussed solely on the job in hand.
Earlier in the game Sam Robson also scored his first Test ton, while Stuart Broad took a hat-trick on the first day. Yorkshire paceman Liam Plunkett recorded his test best figures on his way to 9-176 in the match but it wasn’t enough as Sri Lanka pulled off victory in the most dramatic of circumstances.