A second Joe Root hundred in as many tests dragged England within reach of Sri Lanka on day three at Galle.
Second spin masterclass in a row from Root
The England skipper was supported ably by Jos Buttler and Dom Bess as he put on another masterclass in facing spin. His innings of 186, spanning some nine hours at the crease, was a near flawless exhibition of batting whilst nearly every partner at the other end struggled to get going.
As in the first test Root swept the spinners with ease as he resumed on 67 with Jonny Bairstow at the other end, including one outrageous switch hit early on in the day as the England skipper motored towards a 19th Test century.
Such is the imperious nature of his form that it was going to take something special to dislodge Root. And on what turned out to be the last ball of the day, Oshada Fernando did just that at short leg. Root danced out of his crease and whipped a ball into the leg side that Oshada stopped brilliantly, holding onto the ball and then nailing the stumps from just yards away. Root was well far from making his ground, stiff and sore from the day’s effort, and it was a mighty blow to nudge the game back towards Sri Lanka just as fortunes threatened to drift away from them.
Much like the first test on a pitch two strips across from the one this is being played on, the second encounter between these two flawed but hugely entertaining sides has largely been Root vs Lasith Embuldeniya. The finger spinner, unable to breach Root’s defences or even contain him at times, did his damage at the other end.
England falter in the first hour
Two wickets fell to the 24 year old in the first hour as England’s position of relative strength crumbled. First he dismissed Bairstow, a straighter delivery finding a breakthrough via the inside edge as the ball flicked off his pads to slip. Like in the first test, Bairstow had looked composed and got a start but failed to make the most of it.
Dan Lawrence, so impressive on debut last week, was next in and Embuldeniya’s second victim of the day and fourth overall. This one he could do little about- he pressed forward to a ball that pitched on middle stump and ripped away taking an edge to first slip. Suddenly England were in trouble.
Buttler and Root recover for tourists
It would be some time later before Sri Lanka struck again as Ramesh Mendis picked up a wicket on debut- the spinning all-rounder accounting for Buttler just after the wicket-keeper reached his half-century.
Buttler had adopted Root’s sweep-happy method and made it his own, orthodox and reverse sweeping his way to a vital 55 in a partnership of 97 with his captain. One sweep too many proved his undoing though- an attempted reverse went wrong, and misfortune struck, as he bottom edged off his shoe en route to short leg. It was eerily similar to his non-dimissal before lunch- given out as he reverse swept into the ground to leg slip, instantly reviewing to earn himself a reprieve. There would be no such let off on this occasion for Buttler though.
That partnership was the foundation of England’s batting today as Root’s magnificent ton- including another switch hit later on, some outrageous reverse sweeps and at one point padding the ball away without even looking- dragged England to somewhere near parity. He reached three figures in the first hour off just 139 balls, as Embuldeniya chipped away at the other end, and his rebuild job with Buttler after the drinks break potentially a lifeline for the tourists.
Sri Lanka strike twice before Bess provides resistance
One often brings two, as they say, and so it proved once Mendis had removed Buttler. Two balls after Sam Curran danced down the track to smash Embuldeniya for six, the spinner got his revenge. A straight, slightly wide, delivery was met with a defensive prod that edged the ball to slip. Suddenly Sri Lanka were into the tail.
Root was in need of another partner to stick around and Dom Bess was more than up to the task- his innings of 32(95) punctuated by impressive strokeplay as he defended resolutely. He was undone in a similar way to Lawrence- Embuldeniya picking up his sixth with some more drift and wicked turn as the ball took the glove and flew to first slip. It was reward for the spinner who had induced an edge from Bess just two balls earlier that, upon umpire review, had been grounded at second slip.
During that partnership of 81 Root had begun to show some signs of fatigue- an edge of his own falling just short in the slips before a swept top edge flew over the slips two overs later. The first errors in judgement and execution some 170-odd runs into his knock.
Sri Lanka edge ahead in the final half hour
Mark Wood, never one to hang around, provided Lahiru Thirimmane with a fifth catch of the innings and Embuldeniya with his seventh wicket as he top edged a big slog sweep to the slips, bringing Jack Leach to the crease as the day drew to a close.
Leach, much more likely to hang around, did his job as he and Root saw out the remaining overs in the day. It looked set for Root to be able to go up through the gears again in the morning to close down Sri Lanka’s lead.
Instead, that inspired fielding by Oshada at the close means the hosts’ lead is 42 with just Leach and James Anderson left to try and reduce it. England finish the day on 339/9 and surely thinking that their final batting pair’s biggest contribution must come with the ball tomorrow, if England’s slim chances of victory are to be realised.