Thirimanne (111), Mathews (71) lead Lankan fight back, but England still favourites

Monday, 18 January 2021 00:31 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Lahiru Thirimanne celebrates scoring his second Test century 

By Sa’adi Thawfeeq

England spinner Jack Leach picked up his second five-for in an innings


Lahiru Thirimanne with only his second century in 10 years of Test cricket and Angelo Mathews who scored an obdurate 71 off 219 balls led a Sri Lankan fight back, but at the end of the penultimate day of the first Moose Cup Daraz Test, it was England with their nose in front requiring a further 36 runs with seven second innings wickets in hand to go one-up in the two-Test series at the Galle International Cricket Stadium yesterday.

Sri Lanka put up a much disciplined batting performance than they did in their first when they were bundled out for a paltry 135 in two sessions to score 359 in their second innings and avoid an innings defeat. Their strong resistance left England the formal task of scoring 74 for victory.

After their batsmen showed some resilience, Sri Lankan bowlers spearheaded by left-armer Lasith Embuldeniya continued their spirited fight back by dismissing England openers Don Sibley (2) and Zak Crawley (8) cheaply and running out first innings double century maker Joe Root for one by a brilliant piece of fielding by wicket-keeper Niroshan Dickwella to have England struggling at 14-3. However Jonny Bairstow (11*) and Dan Lawrence (7*) saw the rest of an eventful day out with England closing on 38-3.

Sri Lanka began the day on 156-2 and looking to extend their total to one they could give a fight to England. They suffered an early loss when they lost nightwatchman Embuldeniya for an 11-ball duck in the opening over from Dom Bess.

This brought together Thirimanne and Mathews who carried the score to 210 before the left-hander’s patient innings of 111 off 251 balls (12 fours) was ended by Sam Curran with the second new ball. The bowler got Thirimanne to inside edge a delivery to wicket-keeper Jos Buttler.  

Thirimanne living rather dangerously in the nineties hitting balls in the air but fortunately for him none of them going to hand. He brought up his century with a square drive for four off Bess 4 having gone through eight years and 54 Test innings since scoring his first against Bangladesh in 2013 at the same venue.

A feature of Thirimanne’s innings was the way he used the crease against the spinners. Will this be the turning point of Thirimanne’s rather chequered Test career only time will tell. Whether he would have opened the batting if skipper Dimuth Karunaratne had not pulled out on the morning of the match with a fractured thumb injury was open to debate. With Mathews showing great resilience at the other end the two wore down the England bowlers with some solid cricket.

Sri Lanka went to lunch well placed at 242-4 with Mathews and stand-in captain Dinesh Chandimal at the wickets. However in the afternoon England grabbed back the initiative by grabbing the wickets of Chandimal, Dickwella and Dasun Shanaka for 54 runs.

Bess caused problems for the Lankan batsmen by bowling at a pace a tad slower than he did in the first innings and it was no surprise when he produced a superb delivery to find the edge of Chandimal’s bat in the first over after lunch to send him off for 20. Dickwella and Shanaka also left in quick succession as Bess and Jack Leach got more spin and bounce in the afternoon session.

Dickwella caught in two minds edged a catch to Buttler off the persistent Bess for 29, ending a 57-run stand with Mathews, and Shanaka (4) yorked himself when he came down the pitch to Leach.

The spinners’ task was made easy by Stuart Broad keeping it tight from one end and building up pressure, allowing Root to attack from the other end. How effective Broad was can be seen by his figures of 17 overs for 14 runs with 11 maidens.

While wickets fell at one end Mathews continued to defy the England bowling reaching his 36th Test half century off 164 balls. It was certainly not his best or his most elegant knocks. It comprised only two fours and he was made to work really hard for his runs.

Mathews really applied himself and batted well over five hours making maximum use of a missed chance at 11 by Crawley at short leg. His defiance was finally ended by Leach when he got him to edge a simple catch to Root at slip, giving the spinner his second five-for in an innings in Tests. Bess picked up three to go with his five in the first innings.


Angelo Mathews cuts during his fighting innings of 71