Sri Lanka and England are set to lock horns again in the second Test in Galle, with the home side under pressure after an average display in the first Test.
It was a comprehensive performance from England, who charged ahead in the first half of the Test after bowling the hosts out for 135 and then making 421 in their first-innings. Sri Lanka's dismal first innings batting display in the first innings set the tone for how the match would play out and left them with a mountain to climb.
England were led by Dom Bess's slightly unglamorous five-wicket haul in the first innings, and then a magnificent 228 from captain Joe Root, who produced a masterclass on how to play spin bowlers in their own conditions with a plethora of typically skillful and controlled shots.
Root's class in the subcontinent is well-known - he averages over 50 in every Asian country apart from Bangladesh, where he has played just two Tests - but England will have been especially encouraged by the performance of Dan Lawrence, who made an impressive 73 on debut and backed it up with 21 not out in the second innings to see England home.
Bess and Jack Leach also showed very promising signs with 14 wickets taken between them, as well as more control being shown on a consistent basis in the second innings. Jonny Bairstow looked good against the spin challenge at No. 3 - his knocks of 47 and 35 not out showing good application after both openers failed twice in the match.
Sri Lanka will be buoyed by their second-innings display, however, with Lahiru Thirmanne making an excellent 111 and Kusal Perera and Angelo Mathews also chipping in with promising half-centuries. Lasith Embuldeniya also showed promise, with five wickets in the match and numerous occasions where he troubled England's batsmen. The visitors will have to deal with him carefully as they look for their sixth consecutive Test win in Sri Lanka.
Rob Rush (@robrush99)
It was a very good performance from England overall in the first Test, give or take some inaccurate bowling at times and a mini batting collapse in the second innings. Dan Lawrence showed promise on debut and Jonny Bairstow played well. Jack Leach marked his return to the Test setup in style, picking up a five-for in the second innings and recording match figures of 6-177.
Joe Root endured a stellar start to his big year, even if it was slightly ruined by Bairstow running him out in the second innings. Elsewhere, Jos Buttler made a welcome leap in quality with the gloves and Sam Curran lived up to his nickname of making things happen, grabbing wickets at crucial times. I am glad to see Anderson given the nod for this Test but would have liked to see Olly Stone and Chris Woakes feature too, given the hectic schedule ahead of England this year. The visitors have picked another solid side, and a repeat performance from the first Test should ensure that they walk away as comfortable series winners to kick off 2021 in the best way possible.
Watch Out For:
Sri Lanka are known for producing excellent spin bowlers but have struggled to find an adequate replacement for the legendary Rangana Herath. Embuldeniya, however, bowled with good control in the first Test, removing all of England's top three in the first-innings and both openers in the second innings. With the more experienced Dilruwan Perera struggling for form and the pitch not expected to offer great seam movement once again, the hosts will look to their promising left-arm orthodox spinner to put England under some pressure once again.
Many were unhappy with the recall of Bairstow for the tour to Sri Lanka, given his woeful Test form that led to him being dropped after the 2019 Ashes. However, promoted to No. 3, Bairstow looked the part in Galle, playing the hosts' spin trio with relative comfort and good skill. His unbeaten second innings knock of 35 was crucial to England overcoming another poor start and chasing down the 74 required for victory. With competition for places increasing, Bairstow will want a big score to give the selectors an almighty headache.
Sri Lanka Team News:
Sri Lanka are still without their skipper, Dimuth Karunaratne, so Lahiru Thirmanne will continue at the top with Kusal Perera. The hosts have dropped Kusal Mendis, who registered his fourth consecutive duck in the first Test, with Oshada Fernando expected to replace him. Kasun Rajitha and Lahiru Kumara are still out with injury but Suranga Lakmal is available and could partner fellow seamer Asitha Fernando. This could also mean that off-spinning all-rounder Ramish Mendis comes into the XI at the expense of Dusan Shanaka, should the home side want three spinners.
K. Perera, L. Thirimanne, O. Fernando A. Mathews, D. Chandimal, N. Dickwella (wk), D. Shanaka, H. de Silva, D. Perera, L. Embuldeniya, A. Fernando.
England Team News:
England named their side on Thursday with the top six staying the same. Despite Chris Woakes being available for selection, Sam Curran has held on to the all-rounder's spot at No. 7. James Anderson has come in for Stuart Broad as part of the rotation policy, while despite not being at his best in the first Test, Mark Wood continues ahead of fellow paceman Olly Stone.
D. Sibley, Z. Crawley, J. Bairstow, J. Root ©, D.Lawrence, J. Buttler (wk), S. Curran, D. Bess, M. Wood, J. Leach, J. Anderson.
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