England vs Sri Lanka: Moeen Ali sets up another crushing innings victory

Sri Lanka 91-8 - trailing by 407 - at close-of-play

Chris Stocks
Chester-le-Street
@StocksC_cricket
Saturday 28 May 2016 13:03
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England vs Sri Lanka - Day 2 from Durham

This was a day where the sublime batting of Moeen Ali contrasted starkly with another ridiculous collapse from Sri Lanka’s limp batting line-up as England set up what is shaping up to be yet another crushing innings win.

This second Investec Test is now a contest in name only, with England’s bowlers ensuring it is now a case of when rather than if they will win.

Durham, who paid almost £1million for the right to stage this match and eager to recoup some of the money they have invested, will hope the tourists can summon up some fight from somewhere so it at least drags into Bank Holiday Monday.

However, with the Sri Lankans closing day two here on 91 for eight, a deficit of 407 and still 208 shy of the follow-on target, the reality is England are likely to win this series at some point on day three.

Alastair Cook’s side needed only 298 runs to win the first Test at Headingley by an innings inside three days. James Anderson’s ten-wicket haul did the damage then under leaden skies and on a pitch that offered England’s bowlers plentiful assistance.

The same cannot be said of conditions here at the Riverside. Moeen showed how to bat on a slow pitch as he plundered an unbeaten 155 to lift England’s first-innings total to 498 before Cook declared with his side nine wickets down midway through the afternoon session.

Moeen’s runs were significant coming as they did from the elevated position of No7, his promotion a result of the knee injury to Ben Stokes that has seen him and Jonny Bairstow both moved up one place in the order.

Playing like a proper batsman rather then a tailender, he scored more runs in this one innings than he did in the entire winter series in South Africa from No8.

The result was a second Test century and career-best score at this level, beating the unbeaten 108 he managed at Headingley against these same opponents two summers ago.

Moeen was out for a duck in Leeds last week but he batted beautifully here, resuming the day on 28 and then moving through the gears once he reached his half-century to progress from 50 to 150 in just 84 balls.

Starting the day alongside Chris Woakes, Moeen ensured England built on their overnight total of 310 for six and at the same time crushed the spirit of Sri Lanka in the field.

Excellent on day one, when they took three fine catches, Angelo Mathews’ side were awful today, dropping three chances that, if held, may have maintained their interest in this match.

Moeen was the recipient of two lives, the first in the third over of the day when he was on 36 the most damaging. By the time he was also pardoned on 105 the damage had been done.

Woakes, who made a Test-best score of 39, was also fortunate to survive on eight when wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal dropped the simplest of regulation catches.

Yet the sight of James Anderson reverse sweeping Rangana Herath for four late in England’s innings was evidence there were no demons in this pitch.

Yet the demons lurking within the minds of Sri Lanka’s batsmen were enough to undermine their reply as five wickets in the first hour after tea saw them slump to 67 for six.

There was not even the excuse that overhead conditions played into England’s hands as a succession of Sri Lankan batsmen came and went as the sun beamed down on this corner of the north-east.

Anderson had actually collected the first Sri Lanka wicket before tea, Dimuth Karunaratne bowled round his legs in the third over of his side’s reply.

Root and Vince combined late on to catch Eranga

After reaching tea on 32 for one, Sri Lanka lost three wickets in nine balls after the interval to slump to 58 for four.

Broad, Anderson and Woakes were the men who did the damage as Kaushal Silva, Chandimal and Mathews all perished.

Woakes, 27, had failed to impress in his six Tests prior to this. Yet he made the most of his opportunity with the ball here to further push Sri Lanka into the mire, his double-wicket maiden in the 22nd over ensuring he ended his first spell with the figures of three for nine in seven overs.

The Warwickshire all-rounder had his confidence enhanced this week when he recorded a career-best nine-wicket haul for his county on the day he was called up as a replacement for Stokes.

And it was in evidence here as he dismissed the doughty Mendis via an edge to gully then had Milinda Siriwardena caught behind as Sri Lanka were reduced to 67 for six.

Sixteen overs of defiance followed to slow England’s progress.

Broad, though, had the final say as he picked up two wickets in the space of four balls late in the day.

Herath, the spinner who had picked up his 300th Test wicket when dismissing Steven Finn earlier, was the first, fending a simple chance to Anderson at gully.

Shaminda Eranga, one of four Sri Lankan bowlers to concede 100 runs, fell next when James Vince parried a chance from third slip and a diving Joe Root pouched the rebound in spectacular fashion.

If one moment could sum up the difference between these two sides today that was it.

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