It was an absorbing day of Test cricket, at the end of which England are firmly placed to win this Test, but nothing came easy for the visiting side. Except Niroshan Dickwella and Dasun Shanaka’s departures in quick succession, which derailed Sri Lanka’s resistance, England had to fight through the day, whether it was the effort required to dislodge Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews, or the jitters of three early wickets in a run chase of 74.
Jonny Bairstow and Dan Lawrence recovered England to 38 for three after they had lost Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Joe Root with only 14 runs on the board. With rain predicted tomorrow, England perhaps wanted to chase down the target of 74 runs today itself in the 20 overs in hand. At least that is what Root’s run-out suggested.
Root went for a suicidal run when the ball was not much far away from the pitch. The collision with Dilruwan Perera at the bowler’s end did not help and even though Bairstow waited at his end, giving Root an option to abort the run, the England skipper still went for it. Dickwella's direct hit crashed Root's hopes of making his ground.
Crawley and Sibley were already out for single-digit scores to Lasith Embuldeniya and the pitch suddenly appeared to be a graveyard for batsmen. Soon after Root’s departure, Bairstow also popped a ball in the air which landed in the vacant short cover position. He also survived a potential run-out on the same ball confirming that panic had set in the England camp.
The Yorkshireman, however, put his head down with Lawrence to play the ball on merit instead of hurrying after the target. The duo reintegrated calm into the innings and took England within 36 runs of the finish line before bad light suspended play, five overs early. England will now hope the rain allows them at least one hour which should be enough to gain a 1-0 lead.
Sri Lanka will rue not adding more to their lead. They began the day’s play with hopes of securing a 150-run lead. Had they reached that mark, which wasn’t far-fetched at one point, they would have been as excited as England about the upcoming fifth day.
They went into the lead with five wickets in hand and had both Mathews and Dickwella settled in. Their partnership was 46 off 136 deliveries when a boundary from Mathews’ bat put Sri Lanka three runs ahead. But the first ball of the next over instilled a momentary lapse in concentration from Dickwella. He hung his bat outside the off-stump while attempting a nothing shot. Jos Buttler completed the catch and Dom Bess, for the third time today, took a wicket in his first over of the spell. Next over, it was Jack Leach’s turn. He pegged back Shanka’s off-stump, pushing Sri Lanka further behind.
Mathews continued his rearguard – completing his fifty from 164 balls, the second slowest half-century of his career – but was fighting a lone battle. After Hasaranga’s dismissal, he found unlikely support in Dilruwan Perera who scored a counterattacking 24 in a 38-run stand. But just as the hopes of pushing the lead above 100 rekindled, Perera became Buttler’s first stumping in Test cricket. Even though it was a close call which could have gone either way, Perera had himself to blame as he did not bother to slide his foot in after being beaten on a sharp away turner from Leach. Mathews was eventually the last man to be dismissed for 71, allowing a deserved five-for for Leach.
Earlier in the day, there was another solid partnership between the overnight batsmen Lahiru Thirimanne and Mathews. Mathews joined Thirimanne in the second over of the day when nightwatchman Embuldeniya fell to Bess. Thirimanne continued to lead Sri Lanka’s fight en route to his second Test hundred, which came eight years after the first one. Thirimanne was a shade lucky with a couple of miscued shots eluding fielders by close margins but such have been the circumstances in this Test, that a bit of fortune was the need of the hour to bat long.
It was a period when the England spinners bowled well but lacked consistency to convert any help from the pitch to their advantage and Thirimanne, with his brilliant footwork, made use of scoring opportunities. He brought up his hundred by treating a long-hop from Bess to the point boundary. The celebrations began with a roar which spoke about the significance of this knock – both for Sri Lanka and his career.
It required the second new ball for England to break Thirimanne’s resistance. Sam Curran provided the much-needed opening. After two away swingers, he bowled a straighter one. The Sri Lanka left-hander played for the movement, only edging it through the gap between his bat and pads to Buttler who held on to the catch.
Leach was England’s bowler of the day, bagging his second five-for in Test cricket. He had an indifferent start to the day and the fact that four of his wickets came in the last two spells of the day, during which he induced 44.2 percent false shots. This was a testimony to how he improved through the day. It was those two spells which kept Sri Lanka bereft of those 50 extra runs which would have put England under pressure on Day 5.
Cover Image Credits: England Cricket on Twitter