Root’s ton gives England healthy lead

Joe Root’s scintillating 15th Test century took England to a healthy 278-run lead before bad weather forced early stumps on Day 3 of the second Test against Sri Lanka at the Pallekele. The skipper led from the front as England overcame a mini collapse in the middle to march to a position of strength in between Lunch and Tea. Sri Lanka did hit back with quick strikes in the final session – Akila Dhananjaya registering his best Test figures of 6 for 106 – but are looking at a target in the vicinity of 300, if not more, in their desperate bid to level the three-match series.
Sweep was the theme of the day, with England owing a big percentage of their boundary runs and seven of the nine wickets to sweep shots – conventional or reverse. As much as England batsmen relied on the shot to counter the spin challenge, seven men fell in their missed sweep attempts. With the exception of Keaton Jennings, who gloved one to first slip, and Jos Buttler, who got an inside edge crashing onto his stumps, the remaining five were all trapped leg-before-wicket.
Sri Lanka put a DRS review to good use to get rid of the nightwatchman Jack Leach as early as in the second over of the morning, but Jennings and Rory Burns combined to put the innings back together through a 73-run stand. Burns set the tone of the partnership with his maiden Test fifty, the highlight of which was his quick running between the wickets. The pair batted without any fear of a crumbling on a Day 3 subcontinental track and took the attack to the opposition by using the sweeps to good effect. Their 73 runs came in only 17 overs and did not let any of the Sri Lankan spinners settle, quickly wiping off England’s 46-run deficit in the process.
Once the stand was broken, what followed next was half an hour of madness leading up to Lunch where England not only lost two key wickets – Burns and Ben Stokes – but also the two reviews with them in a futile attempt to get plumb lbw decisions overturned.
Root, who’d looked scratchy during his unbeaten 26 until then, took charge post Lunch. England beefed up their lead by 121 in between the two sessions and 72 of those came off their captain’s bat. Root grew in confidence with each passing delivery, swept comfortably, occasionally even came down the track – to Dilruwan Perera first and then Dhananjaya – for his two sixes, and ran hard between the wickets to keep the runs coming at a quick pace.
With Root marching to his hundred, England kept up with their attacking game despite losing Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali in quick succession. After 55 overs since the start of England’s second innings, and with 15 minutes to go for Tea, Suranga Lakmal brought pace on for the first time in order to induce a wicket but to no avail. Root was happy to go into the break two away from his century, and eventually got to the milestone two balls into the final session of the day though with the help of a lucky edge that carried safely to the fence.
With Ben Foakes for company, Root continued to frustrate the Sri Lanka spinners for another half an hour. The pair together added 82 runs for the seventh wicket but it was Root who had played the aggressor in the partnership, allowing the wicketkeeper to settle down at the other end for a long haul. Like for the six men prior to him, a failed attempt at reverse sweep proved to be the centurion’s undoing as Dhananjaya picked the first of his three quick wickets in the final session that managed to slow down England’s charge.
It took a peach of a delivery from Akila to break the sweeping curse when Sam Curran, Sri Lanka’s chief tormentor in the first innings, was cleaned up off the very first ball he faced. Akila then turned his fifer into best Test figures by adding the wicket of Adil Rashid in his following over. Replays though confirmed the inside edge could have saved Rashid, but England had already blown their two reviews.
Darker clouds gathered over Pallekele and players were taken off the field immediately after Foakes raised his fifty with a mighty six into the deep midwicket stands. As things stand, England lead Sri Lanka by 278 with the last wicket unbeaten partnership having contributed 19 runs to it.
Brief scores: England 290 and 324/9 (Joe Root 124, Ben Foakes 51*; Akila Dhananjaya6-106) lead Sri Lanka 336, by 278 runs.