By Joe Mansfield
A DISAPPOINTING first innings batting display by the hosts saw England take control of the opening match of the Moose Cup in Galle.
Sri Lanka were bowled out for 135 as Dom Bess picked up his second five-wicket haul in test cricket.
England suffered early batting setbacks, losing both openers early on, but captain Joe Root and Johnny Bairstow turned the tide to combine a partnership of 110*.
England trail by just eight runs after dominating the first day of play.
The picturesque coastal ground in Galle usually hums with excitement when England roll into town.
Sadly, the ground had a more sombre feel on the morning of the test as no fans were permitted to attend due to coronavirus restrictions.
Adding to the misery, in form captain and opening batsmen Dinuth Karunaratne was ruled out having suffered a broken finger in the recent series against South Africa.
Stand in captain Dinesh Chandimal stepped in and won the toss, wisely electing to bat first on a slow and turning pitch.
First innings runs look like they will be significant in the test as the wicket is already churning up and will be a spinners paradise in the closing days of the match.
True to that narrative the spinners accounted for nine of the wickets on the first day, but it was Stuart Broad who was the pick of the bowlers.
Broad used his guile and experience to remove three of the Sri Lankan top four. The English veteran deployed his cutter effectively to generate movement off the otherwise flat track.
Dom Bess was in truth gifted a five-wicket haul by the home side as their disobedient batting flattered the off-spinners figures. The former Somerset man admitted as much in his post-match interview.
“I was probably a little bit under prepared given the circumstances at the moment and the weather out here but I will probably bowl a lot better on other days and not take any wickets, so I have got to take them.”
Four Sri Lankan players made scores of 20 or above yet not one was able to capitalise and score more than 30. The miserable form of Kusal Mendis continued as he suffered his fourth straight test duck.
Opener Kusal Perera threatened to make inroads but threw his wicket away attempting an exuberant reverse sweep off the bowling of Bess.
Angelo Mathews was a welcomed back into the side after missing the tour to South Africa through injury. The experienced operator became just the fifth Sr Lankan to reach 6000 test runs during his innings but he was removed by Broad for 28.
Stand in captain Chandimal was also guilty of falling to a soft dismissal. The skipper was handed a lifeline when he was dropped in the covers by debutant Dan Lawrence.
Naively, Chandimal repeated the trick and this time Sam Curran was the man to take the catch at cover.
Jack Leach impressed on his return to the test side, regularly finding purchase and spinning the ball past the outside edge.
The bowling efforts were backed up by Mark Wood who showed real pace, he clocked over 90mph with a frightening regularity on a slow pitch and was unfortunate to go wicketless.
It must be said that England did have their fair share of fortune. Not least when Shanaka’s powerful sweep struck the foot of Bairstow at short midwicket and ballooned up into the gloves of the watchful Butler.
From there on there was little resistance from the host nation with bat in hand.
There was to be no plain sailing for England though, both openers were removed cheaply by some fine bowling from Embuldeniya.
The left-hand off-spin line of Embuldenya and Leach looks like it will be an important one in the remainder of the test match.
Forced to rebuild, England did just that as skipper Root struck his 50th test fifty and was aptly supported by Bairstow, a fellow Yorkshireman.
It was a patient display by two naturally gifted stroke makers. The conditions meant they had to be disciplined and manipulate the field with singles and they did just that.
Bairstow ended the day on 47* with his partnership with Root standing at 110, the highest partnership ever by an English pairing at Galle.
Play will restart at 4:30am GMT on Friday.
Z Crawley, D Sibley, J Bairstow, J Root (C), D lawrence, J Buttler, S Curran, D Bess, S Broad, M Wood, J Leach.
Sri Lanka XI
L Thirimane, K Perera, K Mendis, D Chandimal (C), A, Mathews, N Dickwella (WK), D Shanaka, W Hasaranga, D Perera, L Embuldeniya, A Fernando.