Sam Curran and Jos Buttler both smashed sixties as England were bowled out for 285 all out in difficult batting conditions on the first day of the 2nd test in Pallekelle, Sri Lanka. On a pitch that immediately started to turn, England recovered from 171-7 to post a useful total, before Jack Leach bowled Kaushal Silva to leave Sri Lanka 26 for 1 at the close, still 259 behind.
The day started in familiar fashion – Joe Root winning the toss for the seventh time in a row, and took no time at all in deciding to bat first on a pitch that looked dryer than Galle.
Sri Lanka, as is their way at home, picked just one seamer (Lakmal), a decision that was immediately justified when off-spinner Dilruwan Perera found significant turn and bounce past Keaton Jennings’ outside edge in only the second over.
However it was seam that brought Sri Lanka first blood. A classic Jennings poke outside the off stump gave an easy catch for keeper Dickwella and England were quickly 4 for 1.
Ben Stokes, moved up the order to bat at number 3 after the Moeen Ali experiment failed, immediately looked positive, getting well forward to Lakmal, and punishing anything straight with dismissive authority. Such a powerful influence at the other end seemed to have a calming effect on Rory Burns, who in only his second test had questions to answer following his double failure at Galle. Burns played with the sort of fluidity Surrey fans have been used to, but today he was finally able to bring his game up to international level.
On the stroke of the morning drinks break, Stokes payed round one from Dilruwan that straightened past the outside edge and looked stone-dead LBW; despite umpire Ravi somehow ignoring the Sri Lankan appeals, the DRS confirmed the obvious and Stokes was on his way.
Joe Root came in, looked a million dollars as Joe Root does, then inexplicably missed a straight one from Perera to leave England 65 for 3. Then Burns edged one that turned sharply – a sign of things to come – and eventually fell for a well played 43.
The lunchtime score was all too familiar for a talented batting line-up: England 4 down, albeit with 120 on the board having cruised along at 4 an over for the session. Joe Buttler, batting at number five, was 38 not out of just 32 balls, having scored an incredible 35 from the sweep shot alone.
Worth mentioning that yet again, 30 overs were bowled in the morning session; understandable enough with only one seamer on show, but still a refreshing bonus for England supporters used to being short changed.
After lunch, spin continued to dominate; Moeen missed one off the back foot to Pushpakumara, but Buttler continued to counter attack, bringing up his half century at a run-a-ball.
Whilst the pitch wasn’t as lively as some in Sri Lanka, some deliveries just did enough to cause trouble for the English batsmen; Ben Foakes again looked good for 19, when he tried to sweep Perera and was caught at slip; the replay showed the ball missed Foakes’ inside edge, but rather bemusingly Faokes walked regardless and England were six down.
Jos Buttler’s brilliant 63 eventually came to an end after trying one too many reverse sweeps, and spooned one to Karunaratne at short third man off Pushpakumara.
England’s lower order rarely fails to provide runs in time of a crisis, and Sam Curran and Adil Rashid took England quite comfortably past 200, the highlight being Rashid’s lovely straight drive for six off Pushpakumara, and England finished the afternoon session on 211 for 7 – usually a well below-par total in the world of test cricket, but on a turning pitch, the england dressing room were likely to be happy to have runs on the board.
Soon after tea, England’s two spinners Rashid and Leach fell to deliveries symptomatic of the innings so far – Rashid fell LBW to Perera to a ball he really shouldn’t have missed, then Leach got a beauty from Dananjaya which straightened to nick the top of off stump.
With England nine down, the end was nigh. Sam Curran had other ideas. 12 not out off 58 balls at tea, Curran starting hitting out with James Anderson at the other end. 40 minutes later Curran had put on fifty with James Anderson (who contributed just six of them), and his extraordinary clean hitting on a turning wicket shows why England value the young all-rounder so highly. At just twenty years of age, Curran’s counterattacking turned England’s stuttering effort into a commanding total on a pitch that is sure to wear quickly.
He eventually went caught in the deep for a sensational 64, including 6 sixes, to give Perera his fourth wicket, and England were 285 all out. Curran and Anderson added 60 for the final wicket in just eleven overs. Curran’s first innings 48 in Galle when England were in a nervous position proved to be valuable; his contribution here may well be even more decisive.
Despite the Barmy Army’s loyal supporters being disappointed to see the Curran fireworks brought to a premature close, it did mean England had 12 overs to bowl at Sri Lanka before the close.
With the shadows lengthening, Joe Root waited just 5 overs before opting for spin at both ends, and Jack Leach and Moeen Ali immediately began to cause problems. Moeen found the edge Karunaratne only for it to drop short of Ben Stokes at slip, before Leach bowled Kaushal with a classic slow-left-arm delivery that straightened to hit off stump. Leach now has six test match wickets, all of whom are right handed batsmen.
Stand-in captain Suranga Lakmal passed the nightwatchman baton to Pushpakumara, who steered Sri Lanka to the close.
England will feel they have the edge going into day 2, however Pallekelle can prove to flatten out as the game progresses. England’s spin trio have a huge role to play tomorrow; if they dominant England will be on their way to a first series win here since 2001.