|First Test, Galle (day one)|
|Sri Lanka 135: Bess 5-30, Broad 3-20|
|England 127-2: Root 66*, Bairstow 47*|
|England trail by 8 runs|
Spinner Dom Bess took 5-30 as a woeful Sri Lanka batting display left England in control after the opening day of the first Test in Galle.
The hosts were bowled out for 135 in only 46.1 overs despite winning the toss on a pitch that offered only a little spin.
England closed on 127-2, with Joe Root unbeaten on 66, Jonny Bairstow 47 not out and their third-wicket stand worth 110.
Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley fell to left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya for four and nine respectively.
Sri Lanka’s total was the lowest in a first innings in a Galle Test, and was a pitiful exhibition of indiscipline and poor strokes which demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of how to build a Test innings.
England, who made five changes from their previous Test in August, were disciplined with the ball and tidy in the field, aside from a drop from debutant Dan Lawrence, with Stuart Broad superb in taking 3-20.
Their reward was a strong position on their first day of overseas Test cricket since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, and their opening action of a year that includes home and away series against India, a likely two-Test series against world number one side New Zealand and a bid to regain the Ashes in Australia.
The second day starts at 04:30 GMT on Friday.
Sloppy Sri Lanka gift England early advantage
With England’s most recent Test being played five months ago, and Sri Lanka playing in South Africa over Christmas and the new year, there was concern that the tourists would not be as prepared as the hosts.
Those fears soon disappeared.
Broad, who had Lahiru Thirimanne caught at leg slip and Kusal Mendis, who has now made a duck in four successive Test innings, caught behind in the seventh over, showcased his experience and guile by turning to off-cutters almost immediately.
Bess, playing his 11th Test, may have taken his second five-wicket haul in Tests but struggled to find a consistent line and length.
Kusal Perera reverse swept Bess’ second ball to Root at slip, while Niroshan Dickwella slapped a long hop to Sibley at point to fall for 12.
After getting Dasun Shanaka in fortunate circumstances as a sweep rebounded off Bairstow at short leg into wicketkeeper Jos Buttler’s hands, Bess produced a beautifully flighted delivery to bowl Dilruwan Perera between bat and pad for a duck.
He rounded off the innings by bowling the reverse-sweeping Wanindu Hasaranga for 19 as the hosts lost their last five wickets for 30 runs.
Stand-in captain Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews offered some fight with a stand of 56 for the fourth wicket, the former becoming the 12th Sri Lankan to reach 4,000 Tests runs and Mathews the fifth to 6,000.
However, both fell tamely in the space of three balls as Broad – who had taken three wickets in 80 overs in Sri Lanka before this match – had Mathews slashing to slip, before Chandimal looped a simple catch to Sam Curran at cover to give Jack Leach his first Test wicket since November 2019.
Root & Bairstow nullify spin threat
For England this two-Test tour, which was cut short in March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, is a build-up to the four-Test series in India that follows.
To stand any chance of beating Virat Kohli’s side England must play spin well, and they will be concerned by the early inroads that Sri Lanka made.
Opener Sibley, whom many feel is vulnerable against spin, edged to slip via his back pad as he attempted to work Embuldeniya to leg.
Crawley, promoted to open given Rory Burns’ absence to be at the birth of his first child, looked to take Embuldeniya over the top – a shot he played superbly last summer – but mistimed it to mid-off.
However, Root, whose fifty was his 50th in Test cricket, will be buoyed by the way he and the recalled Bairstow nullified the spin threat as they shared England’s highest partnership in Galle.
It was a chanceless stand, although Root overturned an lbw decision on 20 with replays showing the ball would have gone over the stumps.
Both he and Bairstow scored around the wicket, with Root playing the sweep to good effect, and Bairstow cutting and flicking through mid-wicket well.
They will hope to build a substantial first-innings lead and turn the match into a three-innings game.
‘England didn’t have to work hard at all’ – reaction
England spinner Dom Bess on BBC Test Match Special: “We have put ourselves in a really good position. Rooty and Jonny batted really well because the wicket started to spin.
“I felt I was quite nervous. I hadn’t bowled in a game since the Test matches last summer.
“I didn’t feel I bowled as well as I know I can. That’s cricket, isn’t it? There might be days bowl exceptionally well and go 1-100.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan: “It was a fantastic day for England.
“The partnership with Root and Bairstow was exactly what was required by Sri Lanka.
“Mathews and Chandimal are experienced pros. They were playing nicely and then played two rash shots. It was so poor from Sri Lanka.”
Sri Lanka batting coach Grant Flower: “I’m at a loss for words, I’ve never seen us bat that badly. They know these conditions well and it should have been a big advantage.
“England’s batsmen showed us there’s nothing wrong with the pitch. We batted terribly.”
Former Sri Lanka all-rounder Russell Arnold: “It is not a minefield. It was very poor from Sri Lanka. England didn’t have to work hard at all.
“It is very, very disappointing. It surprised me and I expected a lot more.”