England close in on win over Sri Lanka

Dom Sibley scored six runs in the match
First Test, Galle (day four)
Sri Lanka 135 (Bess 5-30) & 359 (Thirimanne 111, Leach 5-122)
England 421 (Root 228; D Perera 4-109) & 38-3 (Embuldeniya 2-13)
England need further 36 runs to win

England need 36 runs on the final day to win the first Test against Sri Lanka despite losing three wickets in a chaotic end to the fourth day in Galle.

Chasing only 74, the tourists slipped to 14-3 as Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley fell to left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya before captain Joe Root was run out after a mix-up with Jonny Bairstow.

Bairstow, who survived a run-out chance of his own, and debutant Dan Lawrence saw England to 38 without further loss before bad light ended play early.

Bairstow and Lawrence will resume on 11 and seven respectively at 04:15 GMT on Monday.

Earlier, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 359, with Lahiru Thirimanne scoring 111 – his first century for almost eight years – and Angelo Matthews 73.

Jack Leach, playing his first Test since 2019, took 5-122 and Dom Bess 3-100 to finish with match figures of 8-130 and set up what should still be a comfortable England victory despite a wearing pitch.

England panic in frantic final session

England won their most recent series in Sri Lanka 3-0, but their record in Asia – and playing spin – is poor and it reared its head again in a remarkable start to their fourth-innings chase.

Sibley, whom many feel is vulnerable against spin, was bowled for two not offering a shot, while Crawley, who was dropped on one, added only eight before a drive was superbly caught at gully by Kusal Mendis.

England contributed to their own problems as captain Root, who scored a magnificent 228 in the first innings, was run out by a direct hit by wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella, colliding with bowler Dilruwan Perera after Bairstow called for a risky single.

Bairstow and Lawrence restored calm in a 24-run stand to steer England to stumps, and they remain firm favourites to take a 1-0 lead in the two-match series.

“If Sri Lanka had run Bairstow out just after Root it would have been very interesting,” former England captain Michael Vaughan said on BBC Test Match Special.

Sri Lanka show application

Sri Lanka, whose first-innings effort of 135 in just 46.1 overs was described as “one of the worse we’ve ever seen”, showed significantly more character and application in the second.

Opener Thirimanne, 76 not out as the hosts resumed on 156-2, moved to his second Test century – 54 innings after his first, the third longest gap in Test history – with a cut for four off Bess.

The left-hander averaged 22 in 36 Tests before this match and his place was in serious doubt, only for captain Dimuth Karunaratne to be ruled out before the game with a thumb injury.

Lahiru Thirimanne in 2013 and 2021
Then and now: Lahiru Thirimanne went 2,871 days between his first and second Test century

After Thirimanne got a faint inside edge to the excellent Jos Buttler off Sam Curran, former captain Mathews played a dogged 219-ball innings containing only two fours to ensure Sri Lanka at least wiped out a 286-run first-innings deficit.

When he edged Leach to Root at slip to be last man out, Sri Lanka were left wondering what might have been had they shown the same discipline first time round.

Bess & Leach find form

Bess, who took 5-30 in the first innings despite struggling with his length, improved throughout the second innings and took a wicket in the first over of his three spells on Sunday.

He had nightwatchman Embuldeniya caught by Sibley at short cover off the 12th ball of the day, before returning to have stand-in captain Dinesh Chandimal held at slip by Root, and Dickwella caught behind as he attempted to guide the ball to third man.

Leach, who has missed England’s past 11 Tests – in part due to illness – yorked Dasun Shanaka and had the dangerous Wanindu Hasaranga superbly taken by Root at slip, before Perera became Buttler’s first stumping in Test cricket.

The wicket of Mathews rounded off Leach’s five-wicket haul, the first time two England spinners had achieved the feat in the same match since Derek Underwood and John Emburey in Sri Lanka in 1982.

‘It will only mean something if we win’ – reaction

England spinner Jack Leach on BBC Test Match Special: “I wouldn’t say I bowled well. It has been hard graft out there and I have certainly found I am probably a little rusty.

“At times I felt I could have done a better job, but the pleasing thing is I felt I bowled better as the game went on.

“We will come back tomorrow, knock these off and then I can be happy about my five wickets. It will only mean something if we win.”

Former England captain Michael Vaughan: “It has been an exciting day’s play. Sri Lanka hung in there.

“Credit to Sri Lanka – we pelted them but on days three and four have shown they are a team that can compete in home conditions.”

Former Sri Lanka all-rounder Russel Arnold: “The start of England’s innings was hectic. We saw panic from England, but Bairstow and Lawrence now look like they have it under control.”

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