Resistance from lower order, following half-century knocks from Dimuth Karunaratne and Dhananjaya de Silva, helped Sri Lanka reduce their first-innings deficit to just 41 at Tea on Day 2 of the second Test against England at the Pallekele stadium. England fought back twice in the form of two quick wickets on either side of the Lunch break, but handy contributions from batsmen lower down the order, led by an unbeaten 46 from Roshen Silva stretched Sri Lanka to 244 for 7 at the end of the second session.
Sri Lanka resumed their innings from the overnight score of 26 for 1 and had to endure a spin test on the track offering plenty to the slower bowlers. England kept at it for the first 70 minutes – between Moeen Ali, Jack Leach and Adil Rashid – but managed only the wicket of nightwatchman Malinda Pushpakumara who holed out to midwicket in the third over of the morning.
However, Karunaratne and Dhananjaya put on a masterclass in Test match batting to drag Sri Lanka to a position of safety with their third-wicket partnership worth 96. While the former struggled a tad against Moeen’s off-spin, Dhananjaya hardly put a foot wrong as the duo raised patient half-centuries in the morning session to wear out the English bowlers. England even resorted to their most experienced campaigner, James Anderson, after 20 overs of spin but to no avail.
Against the run of play, England found a breakthrough courtesy a brilliant piece of fielding from Ben Stokes. The all-rounder turned the session around for his team in the space of ten minutes by first nailing a direct hit at the ‘keeper’s end – with only one stump to aim at – that found Karunaratne well short of his crease. Two overs later, Stokes stuck his left hand out to pouch a low outside edge off Kusal Mendis that triggered a panic in the hosts’ camp.
If Sri Lanka had gone to Lunch slightly vulnerable, England mounted more pressure on the hosts after the break. In a frenetic one hour after Lunch, Rashid struck twice to dent Sri Lanka’s charge. After a bit of a struggle in the morning session, the legspinner finally got his line and length right managed to find the outside edge of both Dhananjaya and Mathews in the space of eight overs, with wicketkeeper Ben Foakes taking a well-judged catches behind the stumps.
But in another turn of events, Sri Lanka’s lower order put up stiff fight to not let England squeeze out a healthy lead. Roshen led the charge with a dogged 46 not out at Tea, by stitching a 46-run partnership with Niroshan Dickwella and another unbeaten one with Dilruwan Perera. The Sri Lankan wicketkeeper came out and swept the very first ball he faced, off Rashid, to begin with a boundary and resorted to the shot more often than not in his quick knock of 25.
Even after losing the wicketkeeper-batsman, who as trapped plumb in front attempting yet another sweep, Roshen carried on in the company of Perera to steadily erase the deficit. Runs eventually started flowing in more comfortably for the lower-order batsman after having initially resorted only to singles and played a second fiddle to a more fluent Dickwella. He grew in confidence as the session progressed and even came down the track twice to the spinners to fetch more boundaries every time the bowler erred. Unlike most others, he resisted the temptation to sweep.
With Perera providing able support, the pair took Sri Lanka to Tea and within 41 runs from gaining parity with England’s first-innings score.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka 244/7 (Dimuth Karunaratne 63, Dhananjaya de Silva 59; Jack Leach 2-59) trail England, 285, by 41 runs.
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