Thirimanne leads Sri Lanka fightback

Lahiru Thirimanne had made seven 50-plus scores in 70 Test innings before this match
First Test, Galle (day three)
Sri Lanka 135 (Bess 5-30) & 156-2 (Thirimanne 76*, K Perera 62)
England 421 (Root 228, Lawrence 73; D Perera 4-109)
Sri Lanka trail by 130 runs

Lahiru Thirimanne’s unbeaten 76 frustrated England as Sri Lanka fought back on the third day of the first Test in Galle.

Bowled out for 135 in the first innings, Sri Lanka showed great spirit to reach 156-2 – trailing by 130 – after England had posted 421.

Joe Root progressed to a magnificent fourth Test double century before he was last man out for 228 as England lost their last six wickets for 49 runs.

Sam Curran and Jack Leach took a wicket apiece in Sri Lanka’s second innings, but off-spinner Dom Bess rarely threatened on a pitch that has offered assistance to spin since day one.

Kusal Perera contributed 62 to an opening stand of 101 with the patient Thirimanne, who was dropped on 51 by Dom Sibley at gully as he compiled his highest Test score since 2013.

The left-hander will resume alongside nightwatchman Lasith Embuldeniya at 04:15 GMT on Sunday.

England all-rounder Moeen Ali, who tested positive for coronavirus upon arrival in Sri Lanka, spent time at the ground in the afternoon after finishing his quarantine period.

Sri Lanka show character

For the first time in two years, England failed to take a wicket in the first 30 overs – with seamers Curran, Stuart Broad and Mark Wood finding the going tough given the minimal swing or seam movement on offer.

However, credit must be paid to the Sri Lanka openers. Thirimanne and Perera were criticised for their first-innings failures, but their century stand was the first time in six Tests that a Sri Lanka opening pair had survived longer than 10 overs.

Perera showed restraint – he scored at a strike-rate of 57, compared to 74 over his Test career – but hit Leach over mid-wicket for six and swept and also drove well before slapping a Curran long hop to wide third man.

Thirimanne, who averaged 22 in 70 Test innings before this match, was happy to play second fiddle to Perera, although he did find the leg-side boundary with flicks and sweeps.

Having taken 5-30 in the first innings, Bess failed to maintain a consistent length and allowed Thirimanne and Perera to play off the back foot too often.

Left-arm spinner Leach, who bowled more accurately, failed with a review for lbw against Thirimanne on 61 before having Kusal Mendis caught behind off a beautiful delivery that turned and bounced in what proved to be the penultimate over of the day.

Root doubles up

Resuming on 168, Root reached his fourth Test double century with the minimum of fuss.

He showed more intent than on day two – when he was happy for debutant Dan Lawrence to take more risks – hitting the third ball of the day to the cover boundary before driving down the ground for six.

It was almost fitting that Root reached 200 with a sweep for four – it was a productive shot throughout his innings, with 88 runs coming via sweeps and reverse sweeps.

A graphic showing Willy Hammond's, Alastair Cook's, Joe Root's, Len Hutton's and Kevin Pietersen's number of double centuries for England

In his 321-ball innings Root became the eighth Englishman to pass 8,000 Test runs – in 178 innings, two more than Kevin Pietersen, who holds the record.

England passed 400 in the first innings for the sixth time in their past 12 Tests, having failed to do so in their previous 23.

But they lost their last six wickets in 13 overs as they chased quick runs, possibly with an eye on the rain forecast later in the game.

Sri Lanka were much more disciplined than on the previous two days, with pace bowler Asitha Fernando impressing, while off-spinner Dilruwan Perera mopped up the tail to finish with 4-109.

  • 372-5: After adding 68 with Joe Root, Jos Buttler nicks Fernando behind for 30.
  • 372-6: Sam Curran is bowled first ball as Fernando gets one to nip back and crash into off stump.
  • 382-7: Joe Root wants a quick single, but Dom Bess disagrees and is well short of his ground, a third wicket to fall in 12 balls.
  • 398-8: After a 32-minute stay Jack Leach is trapped lbw for four by Dilruwan Perera.
  • 406-9: Mark Wood toe-ends a sweep straight up in the air to be caught by Niroshan Dickwella off Dilruwan Perera.
  • 421 all out: Joe Root holes out on the mid-wicket boundary.

‘Chasing anything will be tricky’ – reaction

England captain Joe Root on BBC Test Match Special: “It feels good to be in the position we are.

“It would have been nice to get a couple more wickets tonight but that one late on is a real bonus for us.

“It gives us a great opportunity in morning to apply a lot of pressure and hammer home what is a strong advantage in this game.”

England all-rounder Sam Curran: “It is a strange looking wicket. It played a bit better than we thought this evening.

“It didn’t offer much for the seamers and there was real slow turn for the spinners. The two openers played really well.”

Former England captain Michael Vaughan: “Sri Lanka came back really well – they have shown fight and discipline.

“If Sri Lanka bat the whole day tomorrow things will get interesting. Chasing anything on last day becomes tricky.

“I expect England will take eight wickets tomorrow and win the game.”

Former England batter Ebony Rainford-Brent: “Sri Lanka really have fought back well. It is good to see.

“If weather plays a factor and there is some resistance from the lower order this could bubble into an exciting finish.”

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