Galle: England 342 (Foakes 107, Dilruwan 5-75) and 322 for 6 dec (Jennings 146*, Stokes 62) beat Sri Lanka 203 (Mathews 52, Moeen 4-66) and 250 (Mathews 53, Moeen 4-71) by 211 runs.
England ended the longest winless streak in overseas Tests in their history with a crushing victory over Sri Lanka. England’s win was not only their largest in terms of runs over Sri Lanka (though there have been innings victories) but their first in Galle. It was their first win in 14 overseas Tests stretching back to the 22-run victory over Bangladesh in Chittagong in October 2016.
For all the talk of “risk taking” and “courage” ahead of this Test, the key difference in this game were two old-school innings played by English batsmen. Ben Foakes, in the first innings, and Keaton Jennings, in the second, made patient, disciplined centuries that put a distance between the sides that Sri Lanka never threatened to close.
There were other valuable, if less eye-catching performances for England. Moeen Ali finished with match figures of 8 for 137 – his best in an overseas Test – while Jack Leach took three second-innings wickets. Ben Stokes followed his half-century in England’s second innings, a performance which took some pressure of the more sedate Jennings, with some hostile bowling on the fourth day which deserved rather more than the one wicket it gathered. He also took three smart chances in the slips.
But Sri Lanka will surely rue an oddly ill-disciplined second innings that included several soft dismissals. While their openers survived the first hour of the day without undue alarm, the drinks break appeared to disturb that concentration. Kaushal Silva attempted to sweep a ball from Leach that pitched on middle stump and was adjudged leg before. To compound the error, Silva squandered a review in his attempt to have the decision overturned.
A few minutes later Dimuth Karunaratne, one of the few men in this side with the temperament to bat for several sessions, skipped down the pitch and drilled a return catch to Moeen. Karunaratne’s intention, no doubt, was to push back the mid-on and mid-off fielders and, perhaps, put Moeen off his length. But with Sri Lanka chasing a notional target of 464 – or, more realistically, batting as long as they could in the hope that rain came to their rescue – it appeared an oddly aggressive stroke.
Perhaps Moeen had earned the batsman’s lack of composure. He had almost dismissed Karunaratne with his second delivery of the day – a nicely flighted offbreak that demanded a stroke but then turned away to take the outside edge – only to see Stokes, at slip, put down a chance he would expect to take every time. Stokes was, perhaps, distracted by wicketkeeper Foakes making a move for the ball.
But perhaps that indiscipline was best typified in the afternoon session when Kusal Mendis sliced to mid-off. Mendis had got away with a mis-hit drive the previous ball: spotting Moeen about 30 yards off the long-off boundary, he skipped down the pitch and drove Leach just over the fielder’s head. But in attempting a repeat to the next delivery, he gifted Moeen a simple catch.
It was a nice piece of bowling to lure Mendis into the drive and spin the ball away from his stroke and a nice piece of captaincy to place the fielder in a position where the batsman felt he could clear him. But it really was an oddly obliging stroke for a man who should have been batting to save a Test.
But if Mendis and co were, to an extent at least, the architects of their own downfall, Dinesh Chandimal and Niroshan Dickwella were the victims of lovely pieces of bowling. Chandimal, perhaps incapacitated by the groin strain that must render him a doubt for the Kandy Test, was drawn forward by a delivery, bowled around the wicket, that drifted towards middle and leg and gripped off the pitch and clipped the top of off stump. Dickwella was dismissed the ball after tea: drawn forward by an offbreak that turned to kiss the outside edge.
The frustration for Sri Lanka was that England were, for much of the day, not at their best. Anderson’s dropping of Angelo Mathews, on 17, at midwicket was scant reward for a terrifically sustained spell of hostile short bowling from Stokes that defied the docility of the surface, while Stokes’ drop of Karunaratne was as simple as it was out of character.
Adil Rashid and Leach, initially at least, also struggled with their length with Moeen easily the most penetrative of the bowlers.
While Mathews resisted to post his second half-century of the match – the first time he had done so since the Boxing Day Test in Christchurch in 2014 – when he was out, turning one that seemed to stop on him to midwicket, Sri Lanka’s last hopes departed with him. As if to rub in the hopelessness of the situation, the sun came out to banish any thought that the rain may come to Sri Lanka’s assistance.
Play had began on time despite a torrential overnight downpour. England arrived slightly late at the ground in the expectation of a delay but, so well was the playing surface covered, that no time was lost. Perhaps Sri Lanka could count themselves unfortunate. Hardly a day on England’s tour has been unaffected by rain ahead of this match but not an over in this game was lost.
Rangana Herath survived the indignity of being out first ball in his final match – he reviewed Marais Erasmus’ decision – but was soon run out as his legs failed him in attempting a second. He deserved a better ending, no doubt, but his reputation is assured. He leaves Sri Lanka cricket with great memories but, perhaps, some worrying days ahead.