England were only 36 runs away from the target with seven wickets in hand. It was supposed to be a straightforward job but there was an air of uncertainty around, induced by the three quick wickets in the chase towards the end of Day 4.
However, Jonny Bairstow and Dan Lawrence didn’t give any opening to Sri Lanka and made it a straightforward job, thus clinching a seven-wicket win as England now lead the series 1-0. Sri Lanka had only one chance when they missed out a DRS call which could have fetched them their fourth wicket. Lawrence was struck on the pads by Dilruwan Perera, on 9, beaten by turn. Had Sri Lanka gone upstairs, they would have had a wicket in the third over of the day.
It was not to be and it took England 9.2 overs to get over the finish line, with Bairstow unbeaten on 35 and Lawrence adding 21 to his first innings’ 73 on a successful Test debut. This is now England’s fifth consecutive Test victory in Sri Lanka, Joe Root’s fourth in as many matches as captain here.
Sri Lanka will rue not having the cushion of those extra 50 runs which could have created the pressure on England when they were 14 for three last evening. They had the chance when they went into the lead with five wickets in hand but Niroshan Dickwella and Dasun Shanaka departing in quick succession left Angelo Mathews as the lone man in the battlefield.
It was a pleasing result for England, not only in the terms of the seven-wicket win but also the process. Both their spinners were amongst wickets with each of Dom Bess and Jack Leach picking a five-wicket haul. Their batting was tested. Joe Root was back in the leading role with the bat. Jos Buttler kept well. Even the fast bowlers survived the hardships of bowling grueling Sri Lankan conditions, except Mark Wood who bowled his heart out but remained wicketless. Sri Lanka’s fight back also trialed England’s ability to change the course of the match. Not to forget, Lawrence’s debut. Overall, it was a perfect game to kick start a tour, without much match practice under their belt and a sterner test on Indian shores waiting for them.
The only aspect that went unchecked is the openers. Both Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley were out for single-digit scores but England will hope they will get their act together soon. Sri Lanka simply need to pick themselves up and will take positives from the resilience they showed from Day 3 onwards. They showed heart and would want to materialize it into a better result for them to level the series, and break a disappointing run of three consecutive Test defeats.
The second Test begins on Friday (January 22), at the same venue - the Galle International Stadium