Rangana Herath’s much heralded last Test ended with the great man’s desperate and unavailing dive for safety as England secured victory by a massive margin of 211 runs, their first overseas win in fourteen attempts.
The sight of the great man’s sprawling demise, accompanied by his opponents’ initial celebrations, somehow symbolised the apparent gulf between the two teams. Despite the inadequate preparation, caused partly by the weather – extraordinarily, not a moment’s play was lost, despite doom-laden forecasts – England dominated proceedings throughout, apart from the first morning, and outclassed their opponents in every department. But it was England’s predominance in spin that was the most surprising aspect of the match. Their three spinners were able to bowl in partnership in a way that their Sri Lankan counterparts never managed.
Despite losing the toss, the hosts could not even blame fourth day conditions. Indeed, the surface seemed, if anything, less troublesome than on previous days, slower but no more spin-friendly. England won notwithstanding dropping two catches, one, incredibly, a relatively easy slip chance to Ben Stokes. He, though, had a role in the innings’ last four dismissals, holding three catches and running out Herath.
Stokes also bowled the most aggressive spell of fast bowling in the match, before and after lunch, in the course of which he had Dhananjaya de Silva caught at slip off a real snorter (he thought he had him the previous ball but the review indicated otherwise).
The rest of the Sri Lankan top order contributed to their own demises. Kaushal Silva missed a sweep and was plumb leg before (inevitably he reviewed it). Dimuth Karunaratne, after playing with great care for over an hour, charged down the wicket to Moeen Ali and hit the ball back to him. Kusal Mendis’s promising 45 ended when Jack Leach snookered him into driving a ball down Moeen’s throat at mid-off; he had hit the previous ball for four in the same area. Angelo Mathews looked in complete command in scoring his second half century of the match, and then punched a ball straight to Jos Buttler at midwicket.
Only Dinesh Chandimal could escape full responsibility. He was beaten by a beauty from Leach which his injury probably made it difficult for him to deal with.
Now the teams go to Pallakele with plenty to think about. For Sri Lanka, Herath has retired, and Chandimal has to get fit. Their younger players, especially Mendis, the most talented, have to start taking responsibility.
England have problems too. Good problems on the whole. There is still the issue of who should bat at number three; Moeen has not exactly been convincing. Then, at Pallakele there is bound to be an extra seamer, presumably Stuart Broad. Which of the three spinners, who shared 16 wickets at Galle (eight for Moeen, five for Leach, three for Adil Rashid) should drop out? And if Jonny Bairstow is fit, does Man of the Match Ben Foakes move aside?
On the whole one would rather have England’s problems than Sri Lanka’s.
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