England beat Sri Lanka in second Test as Joe Root's new-look side secure first overseas series win in nearly three years

England (290 & 346) beat Sri Lanka (336 & 243) by 57 runs: Root's side secured a series victory with one match to spare as Jack Leach, taking a first five-for in international cricket, got the final scalp on Sunday morning

Ed Malyon
Pallekele
Sunday 18 November 2018 10:01
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England win the second Test match against Sri Lanka to secure a historic series win

England secured victory in the second Test against Sri Lanka, winning the series with a match to spare and hinting at, if not outright announcing, the dawn of a new era under Joe Root’s unshackled captaincy.

What England had feared would be a tense finale was, in the end, done and dusted in just 31 minutes. One side needed 75 runs overnight and the other three wickets, but once the excitable but unpredictable Niroshan Dickwella departed, the rest fell into place rather quickly with Leach and Moeen Ali ending up with nine second-innings scalps between them and three in quick succession on Sunday morning.

The only way that England’s winning moment could have been more fitting for this most unique and engrossing of Test matches would have been if Sri Lanka’s last man, Malinda Pushpakumara, had got himself out sweeping.

Instead, England had to settle for a caught and bowled, Jack Leach finishing what he started to seal his first five-wicket haul in Tests in a match where spin didn’t so much dominate as completely take over.

Jack Leach took a maiden five-wicket haul and a stump for a keepsake

There was no grand crescendo to what was the sweepiest and the spinniest Test match in history, just a list of broken records and the feeling of Root’s England assertively coming into their own.

38 of the 40 wickets over five days fell to spin bowlers, a record-breaking haul, with England only denied 20 of their own by Ben Stokes’ superb run-out on day two.

Meanwhile, the sweep shot and its myriad variations were played an incredible 254 times, accounting for 42.2 overs, 12 wickets and 327 runs across a historic, utterly compelling Test.

Put simply, we have rarely, if ever, seen an England team play in this fashion and the very fact that they won a first series in Sri Lanka for 17 years, a first in Asia for six years and a first overseas one in nearly three appears to vindicate their approach. An approach designed to reverse the global trend of visiting teams coming thoroughly unstuck on their travels.

They won this Test by doing things that we don’t see England do; by adopting and executing shots that the players are not accustomed to; by playing three contrasting spinners to find new points of attack; by playing a specialist wicketkeeper, and by leaving out mainstays of the Test team.

And while Root’s performance with the bat was match-winning, the Yorkshireman will have been almost more pleased by his plan coming together than that game-changing 124 in the second innings.

Moeen Ali bowled Suranga Lakmal to virtually secure the win

England have attacked this series as an isolated unit of matches played in hyper-specific conditions and, within that, this Test at Pallekele was approached as its own cricketing micro-climate.

The well-laid strategy was meticulously put together but it was also adaptable, with Stuart Broad having been told he would play here originally only to be left out for a second consecutive Test when England realised that this would be a pitch that needed three spinners. The scorecard bears testament to the wisdom of that move and these are all hallmarks of what captain and coach are trying to instil as a philosophy.

Root and Trevor Bayliss have spoken all series long about being flexible and reacting to situations and we saw it in this Test as players moved up and down the order and bowlers flitted in and out of the match. At times it was difficult to create chances even with a spinning pitch as the ball went soft and lost its zip but England learned from the mistakes of their first innings and corrected those.

On Sunday morning, Dickwella was always going to be the key man to get; an excitable, mercurial talent who will score runs quickly but also have those lapses in concentration that have been in evidence even during this Test, most notably his bungled stumping of Sam Curran before the England all-rounder went wild on day one.

Between he, Akila Dananjaya and Suranga Lakmal, Sri Lanka had enough firepower to knock off the 75 despite the deteriorating surface, and they started well by bleeding England for singles - seven in a row - then a two, then two singles, another two, then a one.

The drip, drip, drip of runs was everything England had feared but the ball was still gripping and turning. Ali and Leach opened the bowling, and the latter spun one through the gate of Dickwella on 34 only to miss the stumps. It was a warning shot, however.

Moeen Ali got the crucial wicket as Niroshan Dickwella edged to slip

An over later, Ali tempted Dickwella into a wafty drive that he edged to slip and the crucial breakthrough was secured.

Moeen bowling around the wicket on a pitch like this would be torment for any tailender and as quickly as Lakmal arrived he went: LBW shout first ball, bowled second.

That brought Pushpakumara to the crease with England in victory formation. Leach and Ali both had four wickets apiece but it was the Somerset spinner who would get to five, a maiden five-for at that, when he lured the number 11 into the tamest of chips.

It was a whimper of an ending to a rockstar of a Test match, but while there is no doubt now that Root is the frontman, the band ain’t half-bad either.

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