England spinners turn the heat on Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka by Bill Ricquier

In a disciplined display in gruelling conditions, England turned a position of advantage at the end of the first day to one of complete dominance by the end of the second. With so much time left in the game it will take a rain storm of epic proportions to save the hosts from what would be their first defeat to England at this very special venue. By close of play England had a lead of 177 with all ten second-innings wickets standing.

After so much unsettled – or plain dreadful – weather, the day dawned bright and reasonably clear. It turned into a typical Sri Lankan post-monsoon day, very hot and very humid.

It was going to be a day when the bulk of the work would have to be done by the spinners, and England’s rose to the occasion impressively. Joe Root handled them well and he led a charmed life with his bowling changes. The wickets were shared around but Moeen Ali took four. Jack Leach was extremely steady and removed the dangerous Kusal Mendis with a classic slow left-armer’s delivery. Adil Rashid out-thought Dinesh Chandimal to have him stumped.

Only when Chandimal, and a subdued and vigilant Angelo Mathews were putting on 70 for the fifth wicket in the afternoon session did England look in anything less than full control. The Sri Lankan innings got off to a calamitous start when Dimuth Karunaratne, their most consistent batsman of the last year or so, nicked James Anderson’s second delivery, which swung extravagantly outside off, into the gloves of Ben Foakes. Karunaratne compounded the damage with a pointless review. The other opener, Kaushal Silva was plumb leg before to Sam Curran, and then it was up to the spinners to do their stuff.

Before that there was the interesting question of whether Foakes, 87 not out overnight, would reach a century in his first Test. It is fascinating how cricket, surely uniquely among games, presents the spectator with these peculiarly nerve-wracking situations. Foakes himself seemed completely untroubled. But that is a bit like being an accomplished driver on a road in Galle; it’s the others you have to worry about. Foakes seemed to have touching faith in Leach’s ability with the bat but when Leach was out with Foakes on 95, and Anderson demonstrated some alarming prods at and around Dilhan Perera’s deliveries, Foakes decided enough was enough.

He reached his hundred in front of what could almost be described as a home crowd. The atmosphere at the ground has been fantastic. (There was even a streaker!). And it’s been a fascinating and enthralling game.

And they say Test cricket is dying.

Bill Ricquier

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