Sunday : “It’s very special” was how captain Joe Root described England’s series clinching 57-run win over Sri Lanka in the second Test at the Pallekele International Stadium yesterday that gave them a unbeatable 2-0 lead in the three-match Test series with one to play.
England didn’t have to wait long for celebrations as the last three Sri Lankan wickets were consumed within a matter of 52 balls on the fifth and final day yesterday as the hosts chasing 301 runs for victory were bowled out for 243.A lot depended on Niroshan Dickwella, the last of the recognised batsmen for Sri Lanka when they resumed at 226-7, requiring 75 runs to win and square the series. But he added only eight runs to his overnight score of 27 before edging a catch to slip off Moeen Ali who in the very same over got through the defences of the stand-in Lankan captain Suranga Lakmal to bowl him for a duck.
Left-arm spinner Jack Leach who had troubled all the Lankan batsmen put the finishing touches to a highly clinical performance by England having last man Malinda Pushpakumara caught and bowled for one to celebrate taking his first five-for in his short three-Test career – 5 for 83 off 23 overs.
Akila Dananjaya who will leave for Brisbane on November 20 to have his bowling action tested after being reported after the Galle Test was unbeaten on eight.
The Pallekele Stadium pitch turned out to be a spinners’ paradise with a world record 38 wickets being taken by trundlers from both sides and shockingly it was England who finished on the winning side playing on a subcontinent pitch. England’s spinners Leach, Ali, Rashid Khan and Root took all 19 wickets to fall to bowlers. Sri Lanka’s three spinners Dananjaya, Dilruwan Perera and Pushpakumara also took a total of 19 wickets with only one wicket going to a fast bowler Lakmal.
The margin of victory left one to ponder whether it was the innings played by Sam Curran in the first innings that was the turning point. He scored 64 and helped England recover from 171-7 to 285. Had he been dismissed without scoring it would have been a different ball game altogether.
Root celebrating the win said at the post-match press conference: “The guys have worked extremely hard. We’ve planned very well for it. We said we were going to play in a certain manner and we’ve backed that up completely in the two games. And that’s
probably the most pleasing thing.
“We’ve stuck to our guns. We’ve been ruthless when we’ve had our opportunities to get ahead in the game and we’ve soaked up pressure well on occasions. To see this team growing
all the time and looking to improve in practice and driving that standard up is a great position to be in.”
When asked which the most satisfying series win was – beating India at home 4-1 or taking a winning 2-0 lead in Sri Lanka, Root said, “They’re very different. It would be easy for me to say this right, now. It feels great. To come here, in very difficult conditions – it was quite extreme here and at Galle – and to perform as we have done and managed to soak up that pressure and apply it back on the opposition for long periods of time as well. Hold our nerve. It shows
a lot of maturity for quite an inexperienced side in this part of the world.”
Root was named Player of the Match for his second innings century (124) that set up England’s target after they were 109-4 and only 62 in front.Sri Lanka head coach Chandika Hathurusingha under whom Sri Lanka has suffered their first Test series defeat said: “We’re looking at the bigger picture. This is the first series we lost this year. We won against South Africa 2-0. These two games were very close ones. We had the opportunity to win both games at times. England played better cricket than us. We have to accept that. We have to learn from these mistakes. I think those mistakes we can easily correct it. It’s about certain decisions. The skill is still there – that’s what I’m banking on. That’s the hope that I have with this team.”
“If you remember this game, I think we lost it in the first innings. When we took 9 wickets – the last wicket put on 60, and the way they made runs was disappointing. In the second innings there were times where we were in the game and we let them off the hook. There was no pressure. Those are the things that are key for us, to win consistently away from home, or at home. Those are the things we need to discuss,” he said.
Hathurusingha said that fielding which has been Sri Lanka’s bane and cost them several matches has to be made a priority ahead of batting and bowling for selections.
“Fielding has been an issue for us for a long time in every format. I think it’s a big picture thing, again. The guys who are not fielding well up to the mark, are the same kinds of players who are coming through the system. They are not athletic enough or skilled enough to do that kind of fielding. We need to address that,” said Hathurusingha.
“We need to look at fielding as a no. 1 thing. Most of the time we look at their no. 1 skill – either bowling or batting – and then you ignore sometimes about the fielding. But we need to look at that very seriously when we select. We need to look at their ability to contribute on the field.”