Southampton: Kevin Pietersen enlivened another heavily weather-disrupted day at the Rose Bowl with a positive 85 as England moved into the lead on 195 for 4. The hosts had quickly wrapped up Sri Lanka for 184, but their reply was a stop-start affair until the skies eventually cleared and then Pietersen and Alastair Cook added 106 for the third wicket before Ian Bell added his own swift contribution.
It was a day of huge frustration for a good crowd as frequent showers moved across the ground, especially during the afternoon session. Their good humour began to abate when the umpires called tea in bright sunshine only for another heavy shower to delay the resumption of the final session. However, the prospect of Pietersen was enough to keep many in their seats during the rain and they were rewarded as England played positively until the close.
Pietersen had looked set for three figures - perhaps even before stumps - and the shot he played to edge Thisara Perera behind, which handed the bowler a notable maiden Test wicket, showed he wasn't in the mood to hold back. There was a hint of width from Perera as Pietersen threw his hands into a drive and his disappointment was clear, but after a hard-working 72 at Lord's this was a clear sign that his game is getting back to full working order.
He had come in with England wobbling on 14 for 2 as Sri Lanka's new-ball bowlers exploited conditions and was quickly into his stride with a straight drive that ricocheted off the stumps and beat mid-on. Further sweet drives followed and in the last over before lunch he made a statement by using his feet to Rangana Herath and drilling him through the covers.
There was more than a hint of the old Pietersen swagger returning and even his defensive shots carried an air of authority about them. Strangely he wasn't tested by left-arm spin again until the final half hour of the day by which time he was well past fifty, which had come from a swift 56 deliveries.
England's intent to make up for lost time was clear and 126 runs came in the 31-overs up to the close. Bell played his part, as he has so often of late, with a breezy innings filled with his usual fine timing. Sri Lanka's bowlers had begun reasonably impressively but struggled to maintain pressure as they have throughout the series while the fielding didn't offer great support.
Cook, meanwhile, picked up from where he's been for the last two series with an innings studded with crisp boundaries. There was even a touch of flamboyance when he pulled a boundary on one leg, while he rarely missed an opportunity to drive or cut. His fifty came from 92 balls, equalling the English record of six consecutive Test fifties, and there was a stunned silence when he skewed an outside edge to gully where Thilan Samaraweera held the catch at the second attempt. Shortly after the wicket the successful bowler, Dilhara Fernando, limped out of the action although he briefly returned to the field later in the session.
The contrast between Cook and his opener partner is fairly stark at the moment and Andrew Strauss's problems continued with another cheap dismissal against left-arm quick Chanaka Welegedara. This time it was an edge to slip, instead of lbw, as Strauss pushed outside off to a ball he could have left which meant three single-figure scores in a row and 26 runs in the series. The perils of the new ball is part of the lot of an opening batsman, but Strauss's lean run can't be brushed off forever especially now he only has one format to focus on.
Jonathan Trott also fell to the new ball when Suranga Lakmal switched to the unusual angle of a right-arm seamer around the wicket to a right hander and Trott played a loose drive. Whether it was a last-ditch gamble against Trott or a well-worked plan from stand-in captain Kumar Sangakkara it certainly had the desired effect for Sri Lanka. That, though, was the pinnacle of the visitors' day and if England make the most of a good forecast on Sunday it could be a battle to save the Test.