At the start of day three of the first Test between Sri Lanka and England at Galle, England’s objective seemed very clear. Already enjoying a lead of 177, and with three full days to go, they had to bat Sri Lanka out of the match. No need to rush. No need for fireworks (in this match fireworks have erupted if Rangana Herath so much as blows his nose). Just old-fashioned Test match batting. That’s all.
But old-fashioned Test match batting is not as straightforward as it used to be, at least not for England. They seem to have become more prone to the old-fashioned Test match collapse. Several times in the last few years they have lost all ten wickets in little more than a couple of sessions.
There was never much danger of that happening in Galle, but they did lose three wickets in a bit of a rush in the morning. First, Rory Burns was run out; it was one of those unfortunate ones – he had no-one to blame but himself. Then Moeen Ali, trying to loft Dilruwan Perera over long on, succeeded only in finding Herath. And Herath himself craftily defeated Joe Root, having him caught behind. This was the second time Herath dismissed Root in the match. The first had been the great man’s hundredth Test wicket at Galle; the second turned out to be his last Test wicket but one.
60 for no wicket had become 74 for three, and one couldn’t help wondering whether it was going to be another one of those days.
But it wasn’t. And the main reason it wasn’t was a fine innings of 146 not out – the highest by an England batsman at Galle – by opener Keaton Jennings.
Like the first innings centurion Ben Foakes, Jennings was in a sense lucky to be there at all. In seven Tests in the English summer he had failed to establish himself, and had it not been for Alastair Cook’s retirement he might well not have been selected for this tour.
As in the first innings he looked very assured here. As he had shown in his first Test in India, he is a fine player of spin, sweeping and reverse sweeping exceptionally well. It’s not pretty to watch, but it worked. He built an innings in a proper way; there were just six fours in his hundred, reached just after tea.
England were helped by a pretty sub-standard performance in the field. Herath hardly bowled during the long partnership between the left-handers Jennings and Ben Stokes, and the only seamer, acting captain Suranga Lakmal, was not seen after lunch. In the last hour or so of their innings England were scoring at will.
Stokes’s innings of 62, with three sixes and six fours, was very valuable. He started rather skittishly but knuckled down and was playing at something like his expansive best when he was unexpectedly bowled by Dilruwan Perera.
Jos Buttler made 35 before falling to a fine low catch by Kaushal Silva at silly point off Herath.
Then Foakes, who must be thinking that Test cricket is really a rather straightforward business, cracked 37 in 46 minutes, with three sixes, added 61 with Jennings. Soon after he was out – though not immediately – Root declared, with the total on 322 for 6, and a lead of 461.
When Sri Lanka batted, with seven overs left in the day, Moeen and Adil Rashid were on after two of them.
With two days left things are looking good for England. Dramatic thunderstorms on Thursday night must be a cause for concern though.
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