Joe Root’s double century keeps England in command despite rally from Sri Lanka
Joe Root completed a masterful double century to keep England in control of the first Test against Sri Lanka, but the hosts responded with some belated batting resolve of their own in Galle.
Captain Root had ended day one on 66, day two on 168 and marched onwards to 228 on the third morning before he was last man down in the tourists’ 421 all out – selflessly sacrificing a big not out.
It was an otherwise flawless effort from the skipper, who pursued and secured his fourth double hundred at this level with utter clarity and mild inevitability over the course of his near eight-hour occupation.
By the time he vacated the crease just before lunch, optimistically trying to clear a raft of boundary riders after an innings built around precise sweeps, the advantage had swelled to a lofty 286.
Sri Lanka’s first innings had been a comedy of errors, culminating in 135 runs and string of sorry dismissals, and any repeat would have brought an early end to proceedings. Instead, the hosts were up for the fight, with Lahiru Thirimanne’s 76 not out leading them to a vastly-improved 156 for two at stumps.
On a turning pitch both Dom Bess and Jack Leach were underwhelming, offering insufficient threat as they managed one wicket between them in 33 overs while failing to stall the run-rate. Leach eventually struck in his 20th over, snaring Kusal Mendis’ outside edge, but more of the same is required on Sunday.
With Moeen Ali out of quarantine 13 days after testing positive for Covid-19, there is a sliver of new pressure on the spinners over the next two days, though it would be a big ask for the all-rounder to be match ready by Friday.
England’s other wicket saw Sam Curran remove Kusal Perera with an unintentional half-tracker, though the left-armer’s luck deserted him when Dom Sibley dropped Thirimanne on 51.
Both teams began well rested after rain wiped out Friday’s evening session but England’s prior momentum remained in place. Root drove the third ball of the day for four to get things up and running before his partner, Jos Buttler, treated himself to a trio of reverse sweeps to the boundary ropes.
Root soon picked up his 8,000th Test run, the seventh Englishman to do so and the second quickest having chalked up the feat in his 178th innings – two more than Kevin Pietersen.
Sri Lanka were passive as the batsmen added 52 in a hurry and were going nowhere until the ball lost shape. Its replacement brought immediate success, Buttler undone by a touch of seam as he nicked Asitha Fernando behind for 30.
The under-used seamer then made it two in two, castling Curran with a yorker first up after the all-rounder had spent 104 overs watching from the dressing room.
Root was undeterred, launching his first six over wide long-on and then reaching 200 with the first of two successive sweeps for four. He marked the moment with a wave for England’s solitary fan.
A poor call saw Dom Bess run out for nought, sacrificed to preserve his skipper and Dilruwan Perera made short work of Jack Leach and Mark Wood before Root holed out aiming for the skies.
Charged with the task of righting the previous wrongs, Kusal Perera and Thirimanne made a point of knuckling down at the top of the order. England used five bowlers in the first 13 overs, with Root’s off-spin soon becoming a sixth option.
Perera and Thirimanne scored 16 and 17 from their first 50 balls respectively, before the former cut loose with a swiped six off Leach followed immediately by a swept four. Moving to his half-century took him just 41 additional balls as the expected chances failed to materialise.
The opener’s celebrations turned to a grimace within a few seconds, Wood smashing him on his wrist with a bouncer that left him requiring heavy strapping, but that was as close as England came as they drew a blank in the afternoon session.
The opening stand had passed three figures when the resistance finally ended, Curran looking slightly bashful after Perera slashed his short, wide offering straight to third man.
There were a few relieved giggles as the fielders converged but Curran would have taken genuine satisfaction had Thirimanne’s thick edge been held by Sibley. Leach finally got one to bite and take Mendis’ edge, the batsman having avoided a fifth straight duck, in a late boost before the gloom descended.
Heather Knight renews call for five-day Tests after South Africa draw
The last women’s Test to end in a victory either way was in 2015.
Rain forces draw between England and South Africa in Taunton Test
Heather Knight’s side had looked to close in on victory on the final day.
England’s hopes of rare home Test victory dashed by bad weather at Taunton
Play against South Africa was eventually called off after four rain delays.
Workload of bowlers could be a game-changer, reveals Ben Stokes
The England captain has admitted he deliberately pushed his team-mates to the limit at Headingley.
Q&A: Is Jos Buttler the right man for England white-ball captaincy?
Buttler has been confirmed as Eoin Morgan’s successor in the job.
Jos Buttler takes over from Eoin Morgan as England’s limited-overs captain
Morgan announced his retirement from international cricket on Tuesday.
Dom Sibley to return to Surrey from Warwickshire at end of the season
Sibley has played all of his 22 Tests since joining the Bears.
James Anderson returns for England’s Test against India
Sam Billings also comes in as Ben Foakes and Jamie Overton miss out on the Edgbaston contest.
England name Sam Billings and James Anderson in XI for Test against India
Billings was drafted in at short notice for his second Test appearance against New Zealand last week as a Covid substitute for Ben Foakes.
Temporary stand collapses ahead of second day between Sri Lanka and Australia
Cricket Australia confirmed no one was underneath the small makeshift seating area.