Joe Root‘s England were bowled out for 285 runs in their first innings before Sri Lanka were reduced to 26-1 at the close of play on Wednesday.
With not much to separate the two sides at this stage, we take a look at the key talking points from the first day.
SPINNERS HOLD SWAY AT PALLEKELE
After England elected to bat first, Sri Lanka struck early with the new ball as Keaton Jennings edged a Suranga Lakmal delivery behind to the wicketkeeper. That would be the only wicket to fall to pace for the rest of the day with spinners holding sway on a dry surface.
Like in the first Test, it was Dilruwan Perera who was the pick of Sri Lanka’s spinners with the 36-year-old striking four times to dismiss Ben Stokes, Ben Foakes, Sam Curran and Adil Rashid.
In keeping with the conditions on offer, the hosts fielded a four-man spin attack and rightly so. Malinda Pushpakumara’s left-arm spin fetched three big wickets in the form of Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali while Akila Dananjaya sent back a well-set Rory Burns and Jack Leach.
Leach then gave England a crucial breakthrough with the ball before the close of play as he took out Kaushal Silva’s off-stump with a classical left-arm spinner’s dismissal. All in all, 10 of the 11 wickets to fall in the day went the way of spinners.
ENGLAND’S BATTING REJIG FAILS TO PAY OFF
Before the start of the Test, Buttler had stated that the flexibility in England’s batting order was a strength rather than a weakness for the tourists. On Wednesday, that flexibility was put to the Test with Ben Stokes promoted to number three on the batting card.
The England all-rounder started his innings in confident fashion against the right-armed pace of Lakmal but his vulnerabilities against spin came to the fore once the slower bowlers came into the attack. The left-hander’s stay was ended on 19 by Perera, who beat his defence with some sharp turn to trap him on the pads.
Moeen Ali’s innings batting at number five did not last long either and the left-hander fell prey to a soft dismissal after missing a rank half-tracker by Pushpakumara.
BUTTLER, CURRAN LIFT ENGLAND WITH COUNTER-ATTACKING BATTING
England were in danger of falling away after being reduced to 89-4 on a spinning track but just like they had done all summer, Buttler and Sam Curran were on hand to dig them out of a hole.
Buttler started watchfully but quickly switched to his more natural gear as he took the attack to Sri Lanka’s spinners. The right-hander registered another crucial half-century before he was finally dismissed for a 67-ball 63. Then, India’s tormentor-in-chief Curran showed his batting prowess once again as the youngster struck a staggering six sixes to turn England’s innings on its head.
Adding 60 runs for the last wicket along with James Anderson who remained unbeaten on 7, Curran top-scored for the visitors with a 64-run knock before becoming the last England batsman to be dismissed.
Together, Buttler and Curran’s counter-attack might have just given the tourists the edge on a pitch which has already turned into a spinner’s paradise.
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New number three Ben Stokes fell for 19 and captain Joe Root was dismissed cheaply again as England slipped to 120 for 4 in the opening session of the second Test against Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
The tourists elected to bat in their bid for a series-clinching win but lost four wickets before lunch on a pitch already assisting spinners.
Jos Buttler, on 38, and Moeen Ali (4) were the not out batsmen with paceman Suranga Lakmal and spinners Dilruwan Perera, Malinda Pushpakumara and Akila Dananjaya all taking a wicket each. However, Sam Curran has not only shored things up but moved the game on past 250 with a superb half-century.
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Suspicions over Dananjaya’s action were raised in the officials’ report from the first Test in Galle, umpired by Chris Gaffaney and Marais Erasmus.
The 25-year-old bowls a variety of different deliveries, with Lakmal revealing it was his stock off-spinner which was under scrutiny.
He remains eligible to play pending further ICC-approved testing and Lakmal said: “There are no rules from the ICC saying he cannot play – he can still play and he’s in a good mentality, so he will still play the next match and correct his mistake.”