SATURDAY: England on top of the world

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BATSMAN Kevin Pietersen was delighted with England’s all-round display as his man-of-the-match display helped his team beat Sri Lanka in the second Test to retain top spot in the world rankings in conditions he branded “a joke”.

Pietersen, who smashed 151 in the first innings, finished things off in Colombo with a quickfire 42 not out to steer England past their victory target of 94, which ensured the two-match series ended in a draw.

“It’s always nice to get some runs,” he told Sky Sports 1. “It’s been a very tough winter for all the batters. But the hard work the boys have put in to bat second and fourth in this Test... We’ve done a fantastic job. All the boys deserve all the credit.

“The hard work, the practice, the hours that I’ve put in, I just thought when you get yourself in and in some sort of nick, you’ve got to try to get it. When it’s 42-43 degrees, I can’t block too many!”

Asked whether the conditions were the toughest he had encountered, he replied: “Definitely. An Ashes tour is very, very tough down under. When we lost 5-0 a few years ago that was tough mentally, but physically this was a joke.”

England captain Andrew Strauss hailed the Barmy Army for their support during a tour in which they have not had too much to cheer about before this Test.

“It was amazing to have that support here away from home,” he said on Sky Sports 1. “It makes us feel very special every time we have that support when we travel away from home and this game was no different.”

Strauss was also pleased with the contributions of his players and singled out Graeme Swann, who finished with match figures of 10 for 181, as well as James Anderson and Pietersen for particular praise.

At the end of the day this will look like a reasonably comfortable victory but we all know how hard we had to work for that,” he said.

“There were some outstanding performances - Jimmy Anderson again on an unresponsive wicket was outstanding; Graeme Swann proved his worth once again and was a constant threat throughout the game; and Kevin Pietersen really took the game away from the opposition with an outstanding innings. He showed everyone what quality he has and why he’s such a special talent.

“Everyone had to work really hard - the fielding and bowling, just to keep plugging away in the second innings when there wasn’t much going on. We’ve had to work hard for this victory. It’s been a tough winter but we’re delighted to come through at the end of it.”

Strauss also got a few runs under his belt after a poor winter with the bat, posting 61 in the first innings before a second-innings duck.

“It’s good to get few runs,” he said. “I would have liked to get a few more but the most important thing is winning the game. We set ourselves that target and we didn’t want to walk away from Sri Lanka having lost the series. I’m delighted by the way guys reacted to the challenge.

“[We’re] still number one - for a while yet, hopefully!”

Sri Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardene admitted his side’s first-innings mistakes had proved costly, but gave credit to Strauss and his team.

“It has been a very well-fought series,” he said on Sky Sports 1.

“We knew it was going to be tough coming into the second Test match and it proved to be.

“We made quite a few mistakes in the first innings. England got in front and it’s quite difficult to tame a side that has that much quality. Credit to Andrew and his team. I thought they played really good cricket, supported by huge group of fans.”

Jayawardene sensed the hosts may have had a sniff at preventing England from reaching their victory target of 94 when they got Strauss out in the opening over, but that was soon extinguished by Alastair Cook (49 not out) and Pietersen.

He added: “You need to pick up three or four wickets early on, but Alastair played very positively and took the game away from us, then Kevin came in and finished off.

“The first two days we made too many mistakes to get back into the Test match and England proved to be a very strong outfit.”

England coach Andy Flower was proud of the way his side turned around their fortunes on tour after a tricky start.

Their disappointing tour of the United Arab Emirates highlighted a problem when playing against spin, but they finally controlled their demons here.

“I’m very happy and proud of the way the guys performed throughout the winter,” he said on Sky Sports 1.

“They have worked hard at their game and I’m really happy that there is evidence of them learning.

“For a side that got to number one in the world, they are still capable of learning. That’s what makes me excited.

“In the conditions we have faced this winter, there are skills you use against spin and it’s our batting that cost us. Our bowlers have been brilliant all the way through.

“Batting is where we have fallen short. Why has it taken so long? These aren’t easy things to sort out.”

Despite their problems against the slower bowling, England’s own attack never wavered - nor did their standards in the field.

“We’ve always got doubts, but when you play international cricket over an extended period of time, doubts can be created,” Flower added.

“But I do trust this group of players and I think they are repaying me for that trust.

“Watching Jimmy Anderson run in during the 89th over yesterday and banging out a spell of quality and commitment made us all feel proud.”

Despite ending the series on a high, though, Flower is still aware of what his side are missing.

“What we need is a genuine, world-class all-rounder to bat and bowl - something we’ve not had since Andrew Flintoff,” he said.

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