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Going Viral: England on tour, 2020-21
#11
Wasteful Sri Lanka skittled for 135 as England take control in Galle
Dom Bess takes five before Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow drive England's reply
England 127 for 2 (Root 66*, Bairstow 47*) trail Sri Lanka 135 (Bess 5-30, Broad 3-20) by eight runs

In years to come, people will see the scorecard of this game - and Dom Bess' first-innings bowling figures, in particular - and presume this was the sort of Galle surface where the ball spun sharply throughout.

It was not really so. In truth, the first day of this match was defined by a remarkably soft batting performance from Sri Lanka. No doubt they are low on confidence after their 2-0 drubbing in South Africa. No doubt they missed their captain, Dimuth Karunaratne, who was forced to pull out of the match having suffered a recurrence of pain from a hand injury sustained in Johannesburg. And no doubt they are lacking in preparation time after rain ruined what little opportunity they had for training.

But despite those caveats, this was a wasteful display from Sri Lanka characterised by poor shot selection and ugly dismissals. On a blameless surface, against an attack that at times looked rusty, they succumbed to the lowest first-innings score at this ground in Test history.

It seems churlish not to celebrate a young man's Test-best figures. And Bess, having suffered a disproportionate of missed chances off his bowling during the English summer, was no doubt due some fortune. But, despite finishing with 5 for 30, he would surely admit that he has bowled better for no reward.

Perhaps, knowing that Bess came into this series under a little bit of pressure, Sri Lanka were looking to attack him. But by attempting to reverse-sweep Bess' second delivery, Kusal Perera instead simply helped him settle into the game. It would have been an ambitious choice of stroke in many contexts, but with a slip in place and Sri Lanka having lost two wickets in the opening seven overs, it looked simply irresponsible. Perera succeeded only in scuffing a catch to slip off his glove.

It was the wicket of Niroshan Dickwella which summed things up. Served the longest of long-hops, Dickwella somehow conspired to splice his cut stroke to point. It was a moment of cricket which might have been more familiar at the lower reaches of a club game.

To be fair to Sri Lanka, they didn't enjoy much luck, either. Dasun Shanaka connected nicely with a slog-sweep only to see the ball thump into the ankle of Jonny Bairstow, jumping to evade it at short leg, and balloon to the keeper. Then Lasith Embuldeniya was run out backing up after the bowler, Jack Leach, managed to get a fingertip on Wanindu Hasaranga's straight drive and the ball deflected into the stumps.

But Hasaranga - getting into a horrible position as he attempted a reverse-sweep - was bowled to complete Bess' five-for, summing up a grim display with the bat. Maybe there have been softer first-innings five-fors in recent Test history, but it isn't easy to recall them.

While Bess may gain the accolades, Stuart Broad could arguably reflect on the key performance with the ball. Coming into this match having taken just three wickets on his three previous Test tours of the country, he could have been forgiven for a sense of dread as he bowled his opening deliveries. Any hope that the unseasonably wet weather in the area might provide some assistance for the seamers was dispelled as the ball steadfastly refused to move, in the air or off the seam, and carried through at a gentle pace.

But within his first eight overs, he had doubled his career wicket tally in Sri Lanka and made deep inroads into their batting. Recognising that his usual ploy to left-handers - going round the wicket, aiming at off stump, and persuading the odd ball to leave the bat - was not going to work on this surface, he instead started to improvise.

Angling the ball into the left-handers, he was rewarded as Lahiru Thirimanne, attempting to nudge the ball off his hip, succeeded only in guiding the ball to Bairstow at leg gully, before Kusal Mendis was drawn into feeling for a cutter outside off stump which gripped and left him fractionally. It was Mendis's fourth successive duck and means he has been dismissed five times from his most recent 13 balls in Test cricket without scoring a run.

While Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews rebuilt in a stand of 56 for the fourth-wicket, Broad's return after lunch split the pair. Varying his pace relentlessly, he persuaded Mathews to attempt to cut one that was probably both too full and too close to him for the stroke. The resultant edged flashed to slip where Joe Root did well to hold on.

Although Chandimal was badly missed at cover by England's debutant, Dan Lawrence (presented his Test cap by former Essex captain, James Foster, before play), off the unfortunate Leach when he had 22, he failed to make England pay. Attempting a repeat of the stroke, he was well held by a diving Sam Curran.

Broad's figures - 3 for 20 - may look unremarkable. But on this surface, they reflected an outstanding performance by a man who has reinvented himself and found a way to keep improving just as it appeared his period at the top level was coming to an end. England's seamers are often talked about as if they're flattered by taking wickets in helpful conditions; here Broad showed again that he deserves more respect

England did not have things all their own way in reply. Embuldeniya, drawing Dom Sibley out of position with his drift and beating him with his turn, gained an edge to slip, before Zak Crawley's unnecessary attempt to clear the infield resulted only in a catch to mid-off.

Had Root, on 20, not reviewed a leg-before decision off the same bowler, Sri Lanka might have felt they had clawed their way back into the game. But Root, albeit by a tiny margin, survived and with Bairstow added an unbroken 110 for the third-wicket to take England within eight of Sri Lanka's total. Watchful and patient, yet busy and positive, they ensured Sri Lanka could never build any pressure by running hard, rotating the strike, sweeping often and putting away the rare loose ball. It is already England's highest Test partnership in Galle and, on a surface expected to deteriorate, has provided a terrific opportunity to build an impregnable position on day two.

For an England side who lost the toss and have lost the first Test in five of their last six series, it was almost a dream opening day. For Sri Lanka, it was a nightmare.
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#12
Maybe a bit early to judge after just one day of the series, but Sri Lanka really look like their decline is just going to go on and on. Their domestic game isn't readying players for Test level: too many teams diluting the quality, pitches geared for spin because groundsmen don't have the knowledge or skills to prepare anything else, and for those who do reach international standard, there's no stability or continuity to nurture their talent while coaches and captains are being sacked left, right and centre.

With promising lads like Pathum Nissanka waiting in the wings there's still hope for the future, but they need to sort out their set-up. (And they'll probably go and demolish England for the rest of the series now I've written this.)
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#13
You never know with us
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#14
Not losing this one

England 320 for 4 (Root 168*, Lawrence 73) lead Sri Lanka 135 by 185 runs

Joe Root's first Test century since November 2019 has helped England tighten their grip on the second day of the first Test in Galle.

Root went through 2020 without a century - the first time in his Test career he has gone through a full year without one - and dropped out of the top 10 in the ICC's batting rankings in the process.

But here he has provided a demonstration of his enduring class in negating the sharply turning ball with calm authority and moving to his 18th Test century in the process. More importantly, he extended England's lead to 185 with six first-innings wickets still in hand by the time rain returned at tea to bring an early close. Sri Lanka will have to bat substantially better than they managed in the first innings if they are to make England bat again.

If they require an example of how to go about things, they could do far worse than emulate Root. With his judgement of when to go forward and back, his ability to manoeuvre the ball into gaps and his ability to sweep both in front and behind square, he has provided a masterclass in playing spin bowling. Kusal Mendis, at short leg, took so many blows, you suspect a boxing referee might have suggested he had taken enough punishment. Never has Root scored so many runs in a single innings from the sweep

It was Root's eighth score of 150 or more in Test cricket and the highest score made by an England player in a Test in Sri Lanka. The previous highest was Kevin Pietersen's 151 made in Colombo in 2012.

Root was given assured support from debutant Dan Lawrence. The pair added 173 in 43.1 overs - England's highest-ever stand in Tests in Sri Lanka - for the fourth wicket, with Lawrence losing little by comparison.

Indeed, were you to put together a highlights package of the day, it would be Lawrence's strokes that dominated. There were cuts, drives, sweeps and, shortly before lunch, he launched Lasith Embuldeniya for a slog-swept six that would have pleased Pietersen or AB de Villiers, the men his father told the BBC he idolised growing up. All in all, it suggested England might just have found a man with the character and skill to flourish at this level. Sterner tests loom, no doubt, but this was an accomplished first international innings from Lawrence.

To be fair, Root's innings was not the sort to be accurately represented by a highlights package. 72 of his runs have come in singles, after all. But while those runs might not have made the immediate impression of Lawrence's six, his ability to find the gaps and rotate the strike make him desperately tough to contain. He looked hungry, patient and technically excellent.

While Lawrence was not able to emulate the achievement of Ben Foakes, who made a century on debut here in 2018, this was a hugely promising start from the 23-year-old. Getting off the mark first ball, Lawrence looked confident from the off and, picking up the length nicely, was comfortable to skip down the pitch or go deep into his crease when required.

He did provide one chance. Appearing to lose concentration for a moment, he skipped down the pitch to Embuldeniya when he had 68 and was fortunate to see the keeper, Niroshan Dickwella, parry the ball past the slips. A short while later, he received one from Dilruwan Perera which spat off the surface, took his glove and ballooned to short-leg. It was a disappointment for Lawrence, of course, but England will have noted the signs of deterioration in the surface with interest.

Root and Lawrence were helped, it does have to be said, by some loose bowling. While Embuldeniya - who took the first three wickets to fall - continued to ask questions of the batsmen, he lacked the support required to build pressure. Perera, in particular, has struggled with his line and length - a floated full toss allowed Lawrence to ease his second delivery through the covers for four - allowing England to pick up regular singles.

The legspinner, Wanindu Hasaranga, was no better. Lawrence was able to cut, sweep and drive him for boundaries as he struggled with his length. Hasaranga has conceded more than four-an-over so far; in a low-scoring game, it is a cost Sri Lanka can ill afford.


To be fair to the bowlers, when you have Root's range of strokes - his ability to find the gaps, in particular - it can be hard to find answers. But the fact that there were only eight maiden overs in the innings (and only three on the second day), reflects both the excellence of the batting and the lack of discipline in the bowling. To have hit 'only' 12 fours - 10 of them on the leg side - but still have a strike rate of 66.14 runs per 100 balls, underlines Root's method: it's maybe not as eye-catching as soon, but it is mightily effective.

Earlier, play was delayed by 70 minutes due to rain. When the resumption eventually came, Jonny Bairstow fell in the second over of the day without adding to his overnight score. While Bairstow may reflect he could have left the ball, Embuldeniya had drawn him forward nicely and gained sharp turn to take the outside edge. Mendis also did well to cling on to a sharp, low catch.

At that stage, Sri Lanka still held a narrow first-innings innings. But Root and Lawrence crushed any hopes the home side may have had of making deeper inroads into the England innings. Even the rain that returned at tea to wash out the final session only delayed Sri Lanka's pain.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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#15
Sri Lanka might yet make a game of this, they're certainly fighting hard. Much improved from the first two days.
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#16
Sri Lanka 135 and 156 for 2 (Thirimanne 76*, Perera 62) trail England 421 (Root 228, Lawrence 73) by 130 runs

Sri Lanka's batsmen have earned themselves a chance of saving the first Test after a much improved performance on the third day in Galle.

Having endured a miserable first two days, Sri Lanka started their second innings with a deficit of 286. But after a first-innings display their batting coach, Grant Flower, rated as "the worst" he had seen, they demonstrated far greater resolve and application the second time around. Going into the fourth day, they have cut that deficit to 130 with seven second-innings wickets in hand.

A grim stat emerged after Sri Lanka's first innings. It suggested that Lahiru Thirimanne had the lowest average of any batsman in Test history (operating between 1-6, anyway) to play a minimum of 50 innings. And it's true, an average of 22.06 halfway through his 37th Test suggested he was somewhat fortunate to win another opportunity.

But here he went some way towards justifying his inclusion. In patiently accumulating an unbeaten 76, he not only recorded his highest Test score since March 2013 (when he made a century against Bangladesh on this ground), but exposed some vulnerability in an England attack who were flattered by the speed with which they accounted for Sri Lanka in the first innings.

In particular, England may be a little concerned by the performance of their spinners. For while Stuart Broad bowled with excellent control - he has conceded three from eight overs - and Mark Wood generated sharp pace from a sluggish surface, these are conditions in which spinners must be expected to do the bulk of the work. And on a surface on which their Sri Lanka counterparts gained sometimes sharp turn and bounce, Jack Leach and Dom Bess rarely threatened and managed only four maidens between them in 33 overs.

Bess, especially, struggled to settle into the required line and length, while Leach, though more threatening, conceded almost four-an-over for much of his spell and looked a little rusty. Perhaps that is not surprising given this was just Leach's third first-class game since December 2019 but the result was England's spinners failed to build much pressure. At times, Joe Root looked the most dangerous of them.

Sri Lanka's batsmen deserve some credit for that, of course. While Kusal Perera's aggression was his undoing in the first innings - he was caught at slip after attempting to reverse-sweep Bess' second ball - this time he took a more calculated approach to his positivity and made it tough for the spinners to settle, as a result. Leach, for example, was lofted for a straight six and, when he pulled back his length, slog-swept the next ball for four. The opening stand, 101, was not only the first century opening stand England had conceded since the MCG Ashes Test at the end of 2017, but the first time Sri Lanka's openers had survived more than 10 overs together in their most recent six innings.

How important a moment Perera's dismissal may prove remains to be seen. But, having made his third half-century in as many Tests since he was promoted to open, he failed to capitalise with another soft dismissal. Throwing his hands at a short, wide ball from Sam Curran, he succeeded only in picking out the man on backward point boundary.

Thirimanne could have gone in similar fashion. On this occasion, however, Dom Sibley, at gully, put down a straightforward chance when the batsman had 51. The looks of anguish on the faces of the England players spoke volumes.

Kusal Mendis, coming into the innings having suffered four successive ducks, at least made it to double figures. But when he went, drawn into a forward prod and caught behind as the ball spun to take the edge, it gave England - and Leach, in particular - an end of day boost.

Earlier, Root's double-century - the fourth of his Test career and his second as captain - helped England take a commanding first-innings lead by the time they were bowled out on the brink of lunch on the third day.

The ease with which Root amassed his runs might give a somewhat misleading impression about the nature of this pitch. But while Root appeared to find life straightforward - he was last man out, caught on the long-on boundary, attempting to set-up a declaration - it was noticeable that, after the first innings of both sides were completed, only two other men in the match had made more than 30. The last five in the England side contributed only 17 runs between them as Sri Lanka claimed six wickets in the morning session.

But Root looked comfortable throughout. Quick to size up the length of the ball and making liberal use of the sweep - a stroke that was very much a feature of this innings; CricViz have suggested Root's innings has contained more sweeps than any Test innings for which such data exists - Sri Lanka were never able to stop his flow of runs.

Only Wally Hammond (with seven) and Sir Alastair Cook (with five) now have more double-centuries for England. Root's score here represents the second-highest score by an England player in Asia after Cook's 263* in Abu Dhabi in 2015.

Root also surpassed 8,000 Test runs during the course of the innings. He is the seventh England player to reach the landmark and, in terms of innings (this is his 178th) the second quickest after Kevin Pietersen, who reached the milestone in 176 innings.


Asitha Fernando did provide a brief moment of joy for Sri Lanka, though. The seamer had only bowled nine of the first 100 overs in the innings but, immediately after an out of shape ball was changed, he gained some wicked late swing to claim wickets with two successive deliveries. First he took Buttler's edge with a full one which late him late, before persuading one to nip back between Curran's bat and pad to bowl him. Dom Bess negotiated the hat-trick ball securely enough but was run-out shortly afterwards as Root called him through for an impossible single, before Leach was tapped in front by a sharply-turning off-break and Wood miscued an attempted sweep and ballooned a catch to the keeper.

Broad survived being given out twice in three balls - umpire Kumar Dharmasena was forced to change his decisions after DRS showed neither of his LBW decisions were correct - and responded with successive boundaries off Fernando.

Meanwhile England received a boost off the field with the news that Moeen Ali had been released from isolation and was free to move to the team hotel. Moeen has been quarantined away from the rest of the tour party after testing positive for Covid-19 on arrival in Sri Lanka on January 3. He is unlikely to be considered for selection for the second Test as England take a cautious approach to his recovery.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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#17
Sri Lanka set a target of 74, England now 12-2. Erm...

Make that 14-3. Jonny Bairstow just did Root up like a kipper. Absolute plank.
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#18
Choice today BBL or England on a bunsen at Galle, no contest the last hour great entertainment.

England 421 and 38 for 3 (Embuldeniya 2-13) need 36 more runs to beat Sri Lanka 135 and 359 (Perera 62, Thirimanne 111, Mathews 71, Leach 5-122, Bess 3-100)

It may look like a modest target, but England face a nervous final morning in their bid to wrap up victory in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle.

When Sri Lanka's second innings ended, midway through the final session on day four, it seemed the result was little more than a formality. England had been set just 74 to win, after all.

But within minutes, England were 14 for 3. The left-arm spin of Lasith Embuldeniya, in particular, appeared to send panic coursing through the England line-up with Joe Root, their captain, run out by yards as he attempted to complete a highly optimistic single.

By then, England had already lost both openers. Dom Sibley, desperate not to be drawn into playing at one that left him, instead left a straight ball that hit his off stump. Zak Crawley, meanwhile, was unable to capitalise upon being dropped on one, pushing at one that did indeed turn away from him and presenting a sharp catch to gully.

But it was only when Root feel that Sri Lanka would have sensed they could pull off one of the great comebacks. Jonny Bairstow had barely dropped the ball more than a couple of metres in front of him, but seemed to call Root through for a single that was as unnecessary as it was unlikely. He had collided with the bowler, Dilruwan Perera, but was left well short of his ground regardless, as the keeper, Niroshan Dickwella, broke the stumps with his direct hit.

Had Bairstow, looking more than a little rattled, been run out to the next delivery - he attempted another impossibly quick single and would have out by yards if there had been a direct hit - Sri Lanka might even have been favourites.

But he survived. And in partnership with an impressively calm Dan Lawrence, Bairstow added 24 more runs before bad light forced a slightly early close. You suspect, ultimately, that the damage incurred in Sri Lanka's first innings will simply prove too deep to mend. That said, England still require another 36 to win on the final day, and as the first six overs of their innings showed, it would be wrong to take anything for granted.

If England do go on to win, it will prove an especially memorably performance for Jack Leach. Leach, who came into this game having played just two first-class games in the last 14 months, has endured a tough time since he last represented England in Mount Maunganui in November 2019. He fell ill on that tour of New Zealand and was subsequently hospitalised with a case of sepsis that he admitted had him fearing for his life.

While he was recalled to the England squad for the tour of South Africa, he fell ill once again and was eventually sent home early to ensure a complete recovery. With the outbreak of Covid-19 adding to the concerns of a man with a reduced immune system (a courtesy of his long-term battle with Crohn's disease), Leach has admitted there were moments when he wondered if he would ever return the Test team.

So to complete a five-wicket haul - his second at this level and his first since England last toured Sri Lanka in 2018 - represents a remarkable comeback. And a further demonstration of the strength of character that lurks under that mild-looking exterior.

In truth, neither Leach nor Dom Bess was at their best for much of this game. Lacking the preparation they would have liked, there were times when they were unable to harness the undoubted assistance provided by this surface. Both would confess they bowled more release deliveries than they would have liked.

Increasingly, however, they started to find their rhythm on the fourth day. There were moments in Sri Lanka's second innings when Leach, in particular, looked a dangerous proposition with his drift and turn troubling the right-handers.

The wicket of Dickwella might have been particularly pleasing for England. It saw Jos Buttler complete the first stumping of his Test career to underline a really accomplished performance with the gloves. Buttler, in his 28th Test as keeper, had earlier missed a desperately tough stumping opportunity, but has generally kept impressively in this game. Completing such a dismissal from his old friend, Leach - the pair developed together at Somerset - was due reward for his improvement. And it will please the selectors, who have preferred him to Ben Foakes, who was player of the series when England won here in 2018.

There were also moments it appeared Sri Lanka could set England a testing fourth-innings target. Certainly when Lahiru Thirimanne was at the crease, Sri Lanka will have retained thoughts of repeating their remarkable performance here in 2015, when they overcame a huge first-innings deficit to bowl India to defeat in the fourth innings.

Thirimanne's only other century at this level came on this ground in March 2013. But, since that match against Bangladesh, he had averaged 19.16 in 27 Tests coming into this game. Having failed in the first innings, it is no exaggeration to suggest that, by the time he walked out to bat on the third day, his career - and Sri Lanka's hopes of salvaging anything from this game - were hanging by a thread.

But he revived his side's hopes with an impressively assured contribution in the innings. Showing both patience and composure, he demonstrated a decent defensive technique and put away the loose ball effectively in reaching his first century in 54 Test innings.

Each time it seemed Sri Lanka were on the brink of establishing a strong position, however, England would claim the wicket that pulled them back into the mire.

In the end, it was the new ball that did for Thirimanne. After Sam Curran had moved a couple away from him, he got one to hold its own and take the inside edge of Thirimanne's bat. Shortly afterwards, Dinesh Chandimal was drawn into poking at one from Bess that went straight on.


Still, by the time they reached parity, Sri Lanka still had five wickets in hand. In partnership with Dickwella, Mathews had negotiated a disciplined spell from England's seamers to add 48 overs in 23.4 overs.

That frustration may well have led to Dickwella's downfall. Attempting to run a short ball to third man, he succeeded only in top-edging the ball into the gloves of Buttler. In the next over, Dasun Shanaka was beaten in the flight by Leach and effectively yorked before Wanindu Hasaranga was drawn into a drive and Root held onto a sharp chance at slip.

While Mathews reached a determined half-century, he was unable to replicate his heroics of Leeds in 2014 and became the final man to fall after edging one that left him from the deserving Leach. It was a performance that gave Sri Lanka just a scintilla of a chance. You cannot help but wonder, however, what might have happened had they managed even 50 or 100 more in their first innings.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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