When the day started, a draw was the biggest probability according to Criclytics but after three slow but absorbing days of Test cricket, things went into the fifth gear and we have a result on our hands on Day 4. Dom Sibley and Jos Buttler arrested the intractable fall of wickets - 15 in the day’s play - to forge an unbeaten 75-run stand, seeing England home to a 2-0 series win by the end of the day’s play. With this win, England have become the first overseas side to win six consecutive Tests in Sri Lanka.
All of it was derived by a characteristic Sri Lankan batting implosion. It was as characteristic as it was bizarre. A constant tussle for the bragging rights in the Test seemed to have fallen in Sri Lanka’s favor when they sealed an important 37-run lead in the first innings. However, by the time they added another 37 to it, they were four wickets down. It extended to 67 for six by lunch and Sri Lanka, for the umpteenth time in the series, squandered an advantage as soon as they gained it.
The pitch showcased sharp turn. The English spinners bowled tighter than they did in the first innings. But there were poor shots intertwined with panic, handing three wickets to both spinners - Jack Leach and Dom Bess.
The fall started with a wild swipe from Kusal Perera in search of a sweep shot that was not there. Rapped on the pads by Leach, he was given out by the umpire and sent the decision upstairs unsuccessfully. Sri Lanka’s rotten luck with their number 3 - Oshada Fernando out for 3 - brought Lahiru Thirmanne and Angelo Mathews in the together.
The due had forged two significant partnerships in the Test series and Sri Lanka one final effort from them but unfortunately, today was not the day. Thirimanne flicked the ball but Zak Crawley, instead of turning his back to the shot at short-leg, snaffled an excellent catch to give widen the opening.
Mathews and Chandimal threw their wickets within the next 13 balls to confirm Sri Lanka’s slump in the Test match. Mathews swept the ball onto his stumps while Chandimal went for one shot too many in his counter-attacking approach. Niroshan Dickwella played an aerial shot in the last over before lunch to gift his wicket.
The spinners turned up for England. Despite neither of Leach or Bess in the wickets column in the first innings, England brought them on as early as the fifth over and continued with them for the rest of the innings. Leach, taking the ball after Bess, struck with his second delivery - Kusal Perera - and then it was one-way traffic. Both picked up three wickets each till lunch and added one more to their tally, extending Sri Lanka’s misery to 78 for eight.
A two-digit total was on cards when Lasith Embuldeniya came to the rescue again, this time with the bat. Like the top-order batsmen of his side, Embuldeniya also went after the spinners but showed the assurance in his strokeplay which was missing from the specialist batsmen. He added 48 runs for the ninth wicket, stretching Sri Lanka’s lead to 163, hence giving Sri Lanka something to bowl at.
As Embuldeniya pushed the target into an uncomfortable territory for England, Joe Root brought himself to bowl. Root versus Embuldeniya was the gist of this Test match but here, they were up against each other in an unexpected manner. Root won the contest, breaking the partnership. Embuldeniya played a full delivery from Root straight into Bairstow’s hands at first slip. Next ball, Root wrapped up Sri Lanka’s innings. Asitha Fernando, in a classical number 11 dismissal, brought a harmless delivery outside the off pole onto his stumps off the middle of his bat.
Embuldeniya, after picking a 7-wicket haul, had to score runs to hand Sri Lanka an outside chance and Root, who scored 186 in the first innings, had to contribute with the ball to end Sri Lanka’s late surge.
164 was going to be tricky and Sri Lanka must have hoped for Embuldeniya to get rid of the opposition openers for the fourth time in the series. He snaffled Crawley to keep hosts’ hopes alive. Sibley, however, found his way through. Batting alongside Bairstow, he settled the nerves for England, bringing the visitors within 118 runs of the target.
A final burst of jitters awaited England post tea. Three wickets fell for 27 runs. Embuldeniya dismissed Bairstow and Dan Lawrence to complete his maiden 10-wicket haul in Test cricket. In between, there was Root, who after sweeping so well throughout the innings, under-edged a miscued sweeps stroke onto his stumps, lending Ramesh Mendis a moment to remember on his debut.
When Lawrence was out, England were 75 runs away from the target and given Root was not in the picture, it was Sri Lanka’s last chance. But Buttler and Sibley nibbled the deficit in 111 balls. Buttler remained unbeaten on 46 while Sibley scored a confidence boosting 56.
Root won the player-of-the-match and player-of-the-series awards. Along with six successive Test wins in Sri Lanka, England are also on a five-match streak of wins overseas, which will face a stern test in India.
Cover Image Credits: England Cricket