For the second time in this two-match Test series, Sri Lanka won the toss and opted to bat first. The idea was to make first use of the pitch which is anticipated to deteriorate and to correct their biggest mistake from the first Test - 135 all out in the first innings - which made them chase the eight-ball throughout the course of the game.
Their start, however, was a firm reminder of that horror on Day 1 itself. Kusal Perera, for the third time in three innings gifted his wicket. James Anderson, accounting for Perera’s wicket, soon sent back their new number three, Oshada Fernando for a duck to strike for the second time in the same over, much like Stuart Broad did on Day 1 of the first Test. But one of their few positives from the that defeat, Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews’ defiance, showed up again to resurrect the innings and ensure Sri Lanka don’t leave it too late again.
While Thirimanne was outclassed by Anderson on the second ball of the afternoon session, Mathews carried on, remaining unbeaten till stumps, notching up his 11th Test hundred. This is also his first Test ton at Galle, third versus England and first in Sri Lanka since 2015.
Fresh from a resolute 71 off 219 balls in his previous innings, which came to an end because he was running out of partners, Mathews carried on with the same resilience today. He was patient throughout, solid in defence and smart enough not to miss out on any loose deliveries which were rare as England, despite not much of assistance from the track, bowled in tight areas. Mathews also did not fall into any of the traps set to bring about his downfall.
Mark Wood bowled many deliveries angling into him, inviting a glance with a leg-slip in place, but Mathews didn’t give in to the temptation, letting the ball go down the leg side. Similarly, when Anderson bowled an in-swinger after four out-swingers with the second new ball, Mathews was again up to the task. While he had a 50-plus strike-rate against other bowlers, he was happy to have only four scoring shots against Anderson off 42 balls - two fours through the on-side and two singles.
Unlike the first Test, Mathews found assuring support throughout the day. Thirimanne hung around with him to add 69 runs for the fourth wicket. For the fifth wicket, he had his first 100-run partnership with Dinesh Chandimal at Galle. The duo kept England at bay throughout the second session. With a false-shot percentage of only 4.9 in his 121-ball 52, Chandimal also looked set for a big innings, before Mark Wood’s angled-in delivery loaded with reverse trapped him in front of the stumps. With the wicket, Wood not only broke the 117-run partnership but also fetched his first wicket of the series, after bowling 38 overs.
Niroshan Dickwella stood with Mathews for the remainder of the day. The incumbent duo focused on heading back unbeaten - adding only 36 runs in 18 overs. Dickwella contributed 19 of those while Mathews, completed his ton in the process, with a cut shot to point. Both Mathews’ hundred and Wood’s wicket (of Chandimal) carried silent celebrations with a sigh of relief, narrating how satisfying it felt as it came after so long and such hard toil.
While Sri Lanka did well to reach 229 for four, it is not sure if England will be entirely disappointed. With no help from the pitch - only a handful of balls turning - their bowlers did well to keep it tough for Sri Lanka to score. Anderson, replacing Broad in the side, bowled with similar mastery, conceding only 24 runs in his 19 overs, including three wickets. His constant exploitation of corridor of uncertainty allowed Root to keep Sri Lanka’s progress under check in spite of big partnerships. Anderson exhibited his dexterity with the wicket of Thirimanne for 43. Bowling from around-the-wicket angle, he took one away from the left-hander with outward seam movement, after bringing many towards him before lunch.
Spinners received little to no succour from the pitch and as a result, pacers bowled majority of the overs - a rarity when Galle is the venue in contention.
At the end of the day’s play, Mathews appreciated the effort of England bowlers to make it tough for Sri Lanka without any assistance from the pitch. He also said the pitch was slow and he is not sure what would be a good first innings score here. But it would be fair to say that Sri Lanka would be satisfied with their day, having put themselves into a position where they can test England a lot more than they did in the first innings of the previous Test.
Cover Image Credits: Sri Lanka Cricket