Both teams headed into Day 2 of the Test match with different challenges, both teams toiled hard and there is little you can complaint from either camps and yet it is tough to decide which team has the advantage.
It was that kind of a day in Test cricket when the pendulum swung both ways but ultimately, the honours were shared. At one point, Sri Lanka had their nose ahead when they posted 381 on the board and Lasith Embuldeniya - for the third time in the series - dismissed both the England openers for single-digit scores but Joe Root, yet again, saved the day caressing his way to an unbeaten half-century. From 5 for two at one point, England finished the day 98 without any further damage, thanks to Root and Jonny Bairstow’s incumbent stand of 93.
Bairstow was lucky to survive a close lbw call towards the end of the day. On 23, he was late to judge the extent of turn on Dilruwan Perera’s off-break and was rapped on the pads. Bairstow survived only on the umpire’s call as the tracker showed the a majority of the ball to be hitting the leg-stump.
Root, on the other end, never looked in any trouble. It was his wide array of sweep shots which bailed England out of early jitters and did it quite swiftly as the skipper reached his half-century in 65 balls, his fastest Test fifty away from home. His 67 runs at a strike-rate of 87 in a match where the other batsmen have collectively scored at a strike-rate of 43.2 dictates why he is a cut above the rest. Eight out of his 10 boundaries today came via sweeps. Overall, it was an extended version of the masterclass Root displayed in the first Test. If anything, today, he made it look like a child’s play where he was toying with the Sri Lankan bowlers.
That was, however, not the only masterclass from the visitor’s camp. Earlier in the day, it was James Anderson, the most experience active Test cricketer right now double his wicket tally from yesterday. To start off, he won his overnight dual against Angelo Mathews. Mathews had survived Anderson’s tight spell on Day 1. Sri Lanka wanted him to bat for as long as possible to reach an imposing total. Those hopes sunk when Anderson took only six balls today to go through Mathews' defence.
It was a sharp in-swinger that kissed the inside edge of Mathews’ bat through to the wicketkeeper. The umpire adjudged Mathews not out before Root went for the DRS hesitantly to get their first prey of the day. Mathews added only 3 runs to his overnight score and England sensed an opening. They were further encouraged when the debutant, Ramesh Mendis was holed down the leg-side by a Mark Wood delivery to bag a duck on debut.
At this point, Sri Lanka, 243/6, found an unlikely hero in Niroshan Dickwella. Known for being brashy at times, Dickwella shed that image today, carrying Sri Lanka’s hopes of an imposing first innings total. Though he continued to add to the scoreboard, there were no irresponsible shots. He found encouraging support in Perera who went to lunch with him unbeaten at 21 from 77 balls.
Dickwella on 78 at tea had a golden opportunity to notch up his maiden Test hundred. Having batted with perseverance for his 92, he eventually played one in the air to be holed out by Jack Leach at mid-off. Anderson then extended his wicket tally by snaffling Suranga Lakmal two balls later.
It felt as if the end is near for Sri Lanka’s innings but Perera ensured England required the extra 30-minute phase in the session to get the remaining wickets. He kept England in the park for another 20 overs with the last two batsmen in the order. In the process, he amassed his seventh Test fifty and fourth at Galle.
Mark Wood and Sam Curran accounted for the last two wickets to complete the first instance of pacers picking all 10 wickets in a Test innings at Galle. As much as this stat spoke for the appreciable toil of England pacers, 64 wicketless overs between their spinners - Dom Bess and Jack Leach - is a worrying sign for England.
England had a familiar start with the bat. Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley failed to get into the double digit and once again, succumbed to the left-arm spin of Lasith Embuldeniya.
Sibley, out for a duck, was caught in front of the stumps in a similar setup to that of the first Test. Crawley edged a delivery that straightened on the off-stump line after angling in towards him. Earlier, it had taken England five overs to get off the mark. The slumber for England was broken when Root swept Embuldeniya in the 10th over for the first boundary of his innings.
The match hangs by a thread and it is no rocket-science that a lot will depend on Root on Day 3, given the pitch has started deteriorate.