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GALLE, Sri Lanka (Reuters) - Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath claimed a career-best match haul of 12 wickets to propel Sri Lanka to a 75-run victory in the first test on Thursday as England slumped to their fourth defeat in a row.
The world's top-ranked side, beaten 3-0 by Pakistan in their most recent series and chasing 340 for victory here, were bowled out for 264. Man of the match Herath took six for 97 to add to his first-innings return of six for 74.
Jonathan Trott's century gave England a great chance to pull off an unlikely win until the match took a dramatic turn in the last 20 minutes before tea when they lost three wickets for seven runs in 24 balls.
They were 259 for eight at the interval and Sri Lanka wrapped up victory in seven deliveries after tea.
Herath's spin partner Suraj Randiv had James Anderson (5) caught behind before removing last man Monty Panesar for a duck with the next ball.
"At one stage it looked like the powerful England batting lineup was going to do the job," said Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford.
"Trott and Matt Prior started to really control the innings and it took a bit of freakish fielding to suddenly change things.
"Rangana Herath is a tough little customer ... and has been doing the business for us for quite a while. I thought his control in both innings was really special," added South African Ford.
The 34-year-old Herath picked up his first 10-wicket haul in his 36-test career but Sri Lanka were indebted to three outstanding catches.
Randiv had the defiant Trott (112) brilliantly caught low down at leg slip by Tillakaratne Dilshan.
Trott had mixed caution with aggression, hitting 10 fours in his 266-ball vigil.
He survived a caught and bowled chance off Herath on 62 when the spinner failed to hold on to a leading edge.
Herath broke a threatening fifth-wicket partnership of 81 between Trott and Prior (41) when he had the England wicketkeeper superbly caught at short-leg by Lahiru Thirimanne.
Prior attempted a sweep but the ball got stuck in the fielder's midriff and he hung on for the catch.
Samit Patel was then expertly caught for nine by Dilshan at cover and Herath followed up by trapping Graeme Swann lbw for one in the last over before tea.
Earlier, England lost Kevin Pietersen (30) and Ian Bell (13) in the morning session after resuming on 111 for two.
Sri Lanka struck in the third over of the day when Pietersen, stifled by tight bowling, went down the track to Randiv but only managed to spoon a catch to Mahela Jayawardene at short mid-wicket.
His dismissal ended a third-wicket stand of 70 with Trott.
Bell hung around for more than an hour before he was given out lbw to Herath despite playing forward at full stretch.
The ball dipped late and hit Bell low on his pads, a decision which he reviewed unsuccessfully as he trudged off convinced he had made contact.
"We are bitterly disappointed," said England captain Andrew Strauss. "We made too many mistakes.
"We fought very hard and there were some outstanding performances from Anderson, Swann and Trott but we left ourselves with too much to do. All credit to Sri Lanka, they put us under pressure, outplayed us and deserved the victory."
Paceman Anderson took five for 72 in the first innings and Swann grabbed six for 82 in the second.
The second and final test in Colombo starts on Tuesday.
Editing by Tony Jimenez