Joe Root’s scintillating 98 not out propelled England to a healthy 213-run lead, with four wickets still in hand, at Tea on Day 3 of the second Test at Pallekele.
Sweep was the theme of the day, with England owing a big percentage of their boundary runs and all six wickets so far to sweep shots – conventional or reverse. The dismissals – four in the morning session and two after Lunch – have all been off missed sweep attempts. With the exception of Keaton Jennings, who gloved one to first slip, and Jos Buttler, who got an inside edge crashing onto his stumps, the remaining four were trapped leg-before-wicket.
After losing the nightwatchman in the second over of the morning through a Sri Lanka review, Jennings and Rory Burns put together a 73-run stand to not only wipe out England’s deficit of 46 runs but also push their side into lead. The pair took the attack to the opposition in the morning session, taking the spin test head on by using sweep shots to good effect.
However, once the stand was broken, what followed next was half an hour of harakiri where England squandered their advantage through two more quick wickets in the space of five deliveries to go into Lunch with the match hanging in balance. To make matters worse, both Burns, who’d looked most comfortable on the Day 3 pitch, and Ben Stokes consumed England’s two reviews on their way back with unsuccessful lbw referrals.
Root, who’d looked scratchy during his unbeaten 26 until then, took charge post Lunch. England beefed up their lead by 121 in between the two sessions and 72 of those came off their captain’s bat, who is two shy of his 15th Test century.
Like most batsmen, the English skipper too found success against spinners through sweep shots and occasionally even came down the track – to Dilruwan Perera first and then Akila Dhananjaya – for his two sixes.
Buttler survived a tough stumping chance and anther lbw shout in the ten minutes after lunch, but couldn’t add a lot to his score. He fell soon after Root raised his fifty off 66 deliveries. Along with Moeen Ali, Root carried England to 200, thereby pushing their lead beyond 150. However, Akila Dhananjaya struck in his extended nine-over spell to take out the left-handed all-rounder just as England inched closer to the 200-run lead.
After 54 overs of spin since morning, and with 15 minutes to go for Tea, Suranga Lakmal brought pace on for the first time in order to induce a wicket. But Root remained unmoved and together with Ben Foakes saw England through to Tea without any further hiccups. The pair added 40 runs to their unbeaten seventh wicket partnership but the captain was in no hurry to get to a triple-figure score.
Brief scores: England 290 and 259/6 (Joe Root 98*, Rory Burns 59; Akila Dhananjaya 3-77, Dilruwan Perera2-81) lead Sri Lanka 336, by 213 runs
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