Sri Lanka hold up England with dogged batting display on day three of first Test in Galle; hosts close on 156-2, trailing by 130 runs; Joe Root scores 228 – his fourth Test double hundred and passes 8,000 Test runs – as England score 421
England captain Joe Root completed the fourth double century of his Test career before Sri Lanka battled back with the bat to delay the tourists’ victory push on day three of the series opener.
Root (228 from 321 balls) followed his 200 against Sri Lanka at Lord’s in 2014, career-best 254 versus Pakistan in Manchester in 2016 and 226 against New Zealand in Hamilton in November 2019 with a superb innings in Galle as England made 421 to earn a 286-run lead on first innings.
The 30-year-old, rather fittingly, slog-swept a four to bring up his double ton from 291 balls before his dismissal proved the final act of an entertaining opening session in which 101 runs were scored – including Root’s 8,000th in Test cricket – and six wickets fell.
Root would have been hoping for early wickets when Sri Lanka – skittled for a self-inflicted 135 on day one – began their second dig, only for openers Lahiru Thirimanne (76no) and Kusal Perera (62) to lead a fightback as the hosts atoned somewhat for their kamikaze first innings to close on 156-2, trailing by 130, as bad light intervened.
England spinners Dom Bess and Jack Leach struggled for consistency, although Leach did dismiss Kusal Mendis (15) with a superb delivery late in the day that turned, bounced and found the edge.
England – who have welcomed Moeen Ali back into their camp after the end of his coronavirus quarantine – are still in a great position, thanks in large part to Root’s superb, sweep-laden knock, which was the team’s second-highest score in Asia, behind only Sir Alastair Cook’s 263 against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in 2015.
Cook (5) and Wally Hammond (7) are now the only England batsmen to have struck more double hundreds in Test cricket than Root.
Plus, of the seven England batsmen to make 8,000 runs – Root, Cook, Graham Gooch, Alec Stewart, David Gower, Kevin Pietersen and Sir Geoffrey Boycott – only Pietersen (176 innings) has done it quicker than Root (178).
Root resumed on Saturday morning on 168 and had advanced to 196 by the time a change of ball – the old one having become misshapen after a Root six – brought two wickets in as many deliveries for Asitha Fernando.
The seamer first had Jos Buttler (30) caught behind from a ball that moved away – ending a 68-run stand with Root for the fifth wicket – and then castled Sam Curran (0) through the gate first ball with some lavish in-swing.
Root reached 200 in the following over, which ended with the run out of Bess (0) – the latter sacrificing his wicket after Root had advanced down the pitch while Sri Lanka appealed to have him out lbw on the sweep.
Leach (4) and Mark Wood (2) came and went – Dilruwan Perera (4-109) with their wickets – while Stuart Broad ended unbeaten on 11 from 13 balls having twice overturned lbw dismissals off Dilruwan in one over and then hit successive boundaries off Fernando in the next.
England also spurned the chance to remove Thirimanne shortly after he had reached fifty for the seventh time in Test cricket with Dom Sibley shelling a catch at backward point.
There was further disappointment for the tourists when their review to have Thirimanne lbw to Leach on 61 came to nothing – ball-tracking showing the spinner’s delivery would have turned past leg stump.
Mendis avoided the ignominy of a fifth straight Test duck, smiling when he swept Leach for a single to get off the mark, but he snicked the same bowler behind to Buttler close to stumps as his stand with Thirimanne ended at 54 and England earned a late lift.