England beat Sri Lanka handsomely by 211 runs to win the first of their best three test series, their first overseas win in this form of the game for two years.
It was a match of firsts and lasts – first caps for England’s Rory Burns and Ben Foakes, and a last test for Rangana Herath who was to retire from international cricket afterwards. It was also probably the final test to be played on the historic Galle cricket ground next to the Indian Ocean.
England won the toss, and having opted to leave out Stuart Broad and play with three spinners, chose to batt first. However, it was pace that initially got them in trouble, with Suranga Lakmal removing debutant Burns for 9, and then having Moeen Ali bowled first ball.
Keaton Jennings and Joe Root looked to rebuild the innings before Herath struck, bowling Root for 35, his 100th wicket on the ground. Jennings and Ben Stokes looked to halt the slide but both fell in quick succession to Dilruwan Perera, bowled, with first Jennings departing for 48, and then Stokes out for 7. Jos Buttler and Foakes saw their side through to lunch, but with five men out, it had been Sri Lanka’s morning.
The pair then batted patiently and looked to be playing their side back into contention until Buttler got a thin edge to a delivery from Perera and was caught behind for 38.
However, Foakes and new man Sam Curran played with a mixture of patience and aggression as they put together only the 4th 50 stand that England had achieved for the seventh wicket in Asia. The pair had just reached drinks in the final session when Curran, who had hit three sixes, went for one shot too many, and he was caught behind off the bowling of Akila Dananjaya for 48.
However, any hopes that Sri Lanka had of wrapping up the innings early were put to rest by Adil Rashid who played an entertaining innings of 35, scoring at almost a run a minute, including 2 sixes, before he gave Perera a fourth wicket. That brought the other debutant, Leach, to the crease and he played out the rest of the day with Foakes, as England closed on 321/8, the most they have ever scored in a single day’s play in Sri Lanka. Foakes was unbeaten on 87, whilst his partner was 14 not out.
Resuming on Day 2, Foakes and Leach added 9 more to the overnight score before Leach gave Perera his 5th wicket, departing for 15. That brought Jimmy Anderson in to bat with Foakes, his completed his century on debit, the second ever England wicketkeeper to do so. He was eventually last man out to Lakmal for 107, as England’s innings closed on 342.
Sri Lanka soon found themselves in trouble in their reply, with Dimuth Karunaratne falling in the first over caught behind off the bowling of Anderson for 4. Then, three overs later, his partner, Kaushal Silva fell, leg before to Curran for just a single.
Dhahanjaya de Silva and Kusal Mendis looked to lead a recovery, but then both fell to England’s spinners, Mendis caught by Stokes at slip off Leach for 19, and then de Silva missing with an attempted slog to Ali and bowled for 14. Sri Lanka survived to lunch with no further mishaps at 42/4.
Angelo Mathews and his captain Dinesh Chandimal then led a Sri Lanka recovery, but, after a stand of 75, Chandimal was undone by a delivery from Adil Rashid and stumped by Foakes for 33. Mathews, the subject of much criticism for his leadership of the one day side reached his fifty but then was caught at short leg by Jennings for 52, with the first ball after tea bowled by Ali.
Dickwella and Perera batted sensibly until Dickwella was tempted by a ball given plenty of flight by Ali and was caught at short extra cover by Buttler for 28. In his next over, Ali struck again, having Dananjaya caught behind for a duck, and reducing Sri Lanka to 174 – 8. Perera was the next to fall, hitting Leach straight to Buttler for 21, heralding the arrival of Herath at the crease who was greeted by fireworks, and an English guard of honour.
He and Lakmal played a few shots but then Rashid return to have Lakmal caught by Anderson for 15, as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 203, with Herath on 14, and the visitors boasting a first innings lead of 139. Ali finished with 4 for 66, whilst there were two wickets apiece for Rashid and Leach.
The England opening pair of Jennings and Burns then strengthened the England advantage by reaching stumps with an unbeaten stand of 38, increasing the English lead to 177. At close of play Jennings was unbeaten on 26, and his partner 11 not out.
The pair added 22 on the second morning before Burns was runout for 23 by a direct throw from Karunaratne, attempting a risky and unnecessary single. That brought Ali to the crease, but he did not last long, hitting Perera straight to mid-on for3. And then captain Root soon followed, giving a thin edge behind to Herath for 3. However, Jennings then reached his 50, his highest test score for nearly 2 years, and, together with Stokes, saw his side to lunch at 110 – 3.
The afternoon session saw England looked to put the game beyond Sri Lanka, with Stokes leading the way with a typically aggressive innings of 62, which included 3 huge sixes. He was eventually beaten by a fine delivery from Perera, but had done the job that his side needed by then. That brought Buttler to the crease, and although he survived a chance when he had scored 11, England reached tea on 212 -4, with Jennings two short of his century.
After tea he duly completed his 2nd century, and then, with the new ball taken England looked to press the accelerator. Buttler managed some fine blows before he was brilliantly caught at short leg by Silva off the bowling of Herath for 35. That brought Foakes to the crease and he scored at a run a ball, hitting 3 sixes, until he was caught by Mendis off the bowling of Dananjaya for 37. At that point, with the score on 322 for 6, and the England lead at 461, they declared, leaving Jennings undefeated on 146. He had batted for nearly 6 hours and hit 9 fours in his highest test innings to date.
The Sri Lanka opening pair of Karunaratne and Silva batted through to stumps to leave Sri Lanka 15 not out overnight, but they faced almost certain defeat in the match.
Batting on day 4, the opening pair of Karunatne and Silva initially batted sensibly, but then both gave their wickets away to poor shots. First to fall was Silva who had reached 30 when he attempted an ugly swipe to Leach and was lbw. Eight runs later, Karunaratne followed, trying to hit Ali over his head and presenting a simple caught and bowled chance when he had scored 7. De Silva and Kusal Mendis look to steady the ship but, on the stroke of lunch, de Silva edged Stokes to Root at slip, and was caught for 21.
Mendis and Mathews combined then in a partnership of 46, but then Mendis threw his wicket away, chipping Leach to Ali at mid-wicket, and departed for 45. Chandimal was dropped off Anderson when he had yet to score, but his reprieve did not last long as he was bowled by Leach for a single.
Mathews and Dickwella saw their side through to the tea interval with an unbeaten stand of 36 but, the first ball after the resumption of play, Dickwella edged Ali to Stokes at slip and was caught for 16. Then Mathews, who had reached his second 50 of the match, mistimed a shot off Ali and chipped the ball to Buttler, falling for 53.
Dananjaya added 32 with Perera, but then he gave his 4th wicket of the innings, edging to Stokes at slip for 30. Perera, who had put up some late resistance, hitting a six and three falls, fell in similar fashion for 30, with Rashid the bowler this time. Lakmal and Herath added 11 for the final wicket, but Herath’s test career ended in disappointing fashion as he was run out by Stokes for 5, as his side were all out for 250. For England Ali finished with 4 for 71, and Leach 3 for 60.
Ben Foakes was named man of the match in his debut test.