Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow lead England fightback against Sri Lanka

Figcaption Joe Root And Jonny Bairstow Lead England Fightback Against Sri Lanka
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

Joe Root has spent precious little time off the field during this series in Sri Lanka but when has been able to put his feet up in the pavilion, you fancy a fair bit of headspace has been dedicated to the fortunes of his opening batsmen and his spinners.

When the stumps were called on the second day in Galle, Root could at least be satisfied by his own work with the bat. The England captain walked off 67 not out after another frictionless display on the subcontinent, with Jonny Bairstow for company, unbeaten on 24, and his side 98 for two in reply to Sri Lanka’s 381 all out.

But as much as this represented a solid final session after relying on the evergreen Jimmy Anderson’s figures six for 40 from 29 overs – and England hold the whip hand sitting 1-0 up in the series – four Tests in India come next and the decision to send Bairstow home for a rest at the start is beginning to look ever more curious.

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Bairstow and Root have found themselves walking out to the middle within the first nine overs of the three innings to date. Lasith Embuldeniya, a languid left-arm spinner playing his ninth Test, has bowled 55 balls to the opening pair of Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, removing them six times for a cost of eight runs.

Once again it was Sibley who fell first here. Embuldeniya had just got the Kookaburra ball to rag past the right-hander’s outside edge and followed this up by firing one into his pads on the back foot. The review that followed failed and Sibley, after an excellent first 12 months in the side, finds himself searching for fresh solutions.

Crawley’s dismissal five minutes later was more classical, the right-hander eschewing the positivity that proved his downfall in the first Test and instead falling in defence, as he push forward to one that gripped the surface, kissed the edge and flew to a grateful Lahiru Thirammane at slip. The openers will be glad to see the back of Embuldeniya and grateful India’s Ravi Jadeja is out of the first two Tests with a broken thumb.

James Anderson asks for a review. He took six for 40, including the wicket of Angelo Mathews for 110. Photograph: Sri Lanka Cricket

Root and Bairstow soon put all this into context, the former following his sweep-heavy template from last week’s double-century and moving to sixth in England’s all-time runs chart when back-to-back fours off Embuldeniya took him past Geoffrey Boycott’s tally of 8,114. There was one scare before the close when Bairstow survived a reviewed lbw from Dilruwan Perera on umpire’s call, but he too looked solid.

England’s batsmen should have been encouraged by the ease of Perera’s 170-ball 67 from No 8 at the back of their 139.3 overs. It was an innings of eight fours and one glorious six, struck inside out over extra cover, that, along with Niroshan Dickwella’s 92 and 110 from Angelo Mathews, turned Friday’s seven for two into a bulging total.

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However, that all 10 wickets fell to seamers – a first in Sri Lanka since Andy Caddick, Darren Gough and Craig White in Kandy back in 2001 – pointed to another growing issue for Root and a brains trust that has four spinners in reserve. Moeen Ali comes with few guarantees after a 16-month break from first-class cricket and his recent illness, while Matt Parkinson, Mason Crane and Amar Virdi have a solitary cap between them.

Control from England’s first-choice pairing was the issue again, even if the pitch was sleepy until Embuldeniya had the ball in hand. Dom Bess and Jack Leach pieced together seven maidens from their combined 65 overs, none for 195, and it often felt like their captain was simply waiting for Anderson and Mark Wood to re-energise.

Anderson was sublime and not just by sending down 13 maidens and going at a tick above one run per over. His best figures in Asia – and his 30th five-wicket haul in Tests – were secured by the removals of Mathews and Dickwella at the start of both sessions, as well as the tailender Suranga Lakmal second ball.

What more is there to add about the 38-year-old? The notion he is a home-track bully has long since become a crackpot theory to sit alongside the faking of the moon landings, while his incredible longevity is summed up by the record 17 years, seven months and 30 days between the first and latest of his five-wicket hauls.

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Here he struck first thing, shedding any overnight stiffness with the removal of Mathews caught behind on review – a fine edge on to pad that initially befuddled the third umpire, Lyndon Hannibal – before Jos Buttler pouched a second with a fantastic flying effort down leg to dismiss the debutant Ramesh Mendis and hand Wood his second.

At 243 for six, a chance to keep the hosts in check had presented itself. But Dickwella’s 16th Test half-century and a seventh for Perera put on a stand of 89 in 29 overs when the spinners were milked and was only broken when the former tried to drive an Anderson cutter through a packed off side and picked out Leach at mid-off.

When Perera followed a third wicket for Wood by holing out off Sam Curran, bringing tea and 20 minutes for England’s openers to ready themselves, he had helped add 138 runs for the final four wickets.

By stumps, with Sibley and Crawley back in the hutch but Root and Bairstow holding firm, the value of Perera’s diligent work had only increased.

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