Mathews hits century as England made to toil on day one of second Test


hen Joe Root lost the toss again in Galle, he knew that if England are to take this series (and with it the prestigious Moose Clothing Cup) 2-0, they will have to do it the hard way.

As it has been since the First Test finished on Monday, it was a sweltering morning in Galle and the radar was clear. That weather had baked a pitch that looked even flatter than the last; this was a surface on which even great spinners would struggle to run through a team on the first couple of days, let alone Jack Leach and Dom Bess.

You can bet, though, that by the time day five rolls around, it will be spinning and spitting. No chase, as we were reminded earlier in the week, is totally straightforward in Asia.

So Root’s Sri Lankan counterpart Dinesh Chandimal did not hesitate when choosing to bat. 

That was in part because he would have been so keen to have a bat himself on such a kind surface. And Chandimal was involved in the key partnership of the day, with his 52 contributing to the stand of 118 with Angelo Mathews, who went to his third century against England and 11th in Tests. Sri Lanka’s two best batsmen were very tricky to dislodge.

Having improved so much in the second half of the First Test, Sri Lanka were never going to give England the sort of head start they did eight days ago. But Mathews walked to the crease in the match’s fifth over at seven for two, and Chandimal was in the over after lunch with the score 76 for three and England right on top.

That they were was almost solely down to the timeless James Anderson, who came into the side for Stuart Broad in the only change and skipped from 600 to 603 Test wickets within his first six overs of his 19th year as a Test cricketer.

These days, Anderson and Broad’s every cricketing movement is managed. This subcontinental winter that means their partnership changes markedly in that they take turns to play rather than operate together.

Normally when England try to separate the two, Anderson gets first dibs. He did in Sri Lanka in 2018, Barbados in 2019 and Southampton in 2020. They should have played together in the latter two and Broad made his feelings known, to chief selector Ed Smith privately in Barbados, and to anyone watching Sky in Southampton.

This time, it has been different on two counts. Broad got a go first, did well, then had no complaints whatsoever about being left out — especially when he saw the pitch. With match figures of 26-14-34-3, Broad’s performance put some pressure on Anderson. He rose to it.

( Sri Lanka Cricket )

At 38, Anderson looked a little weary at mid-on, where he misfielded twice, but not at the bowling crease. In his third over of the day, his first wicket was a gift, with Kusal Perera slashing, as he is prone to, outside off-stump and being caught well by Root, high above his head, at first slip. Four balls later, Oshada Fernando — into the side for Kusal Mendis as one of three changes — dragged on when it bounced a little. Anderson would finish his opening five-over spell with two maidens and just four runs conceded.

Mathews made it to lunch with the First Test centurion Lahiru Thirimanne but, two balls after the break, Anderson had Thirimanne caught behind with one that nipped away from the left-hander. It was the eighth time Anderson had dismissed Thirimanne in Tests.

Mathews and Chandimal came together, batting steadily. England never lost control or let runs flow freely on this unforgiving pitch. Bess and Leach did not bowl poorly — it was notable that they were cut less than before — but neither beat the bat until the 62nd over of the innings.

Anderson remained desperately difficult to score off. In 19 overs, including four with the second new ball, he conceded just 24 runs.

Mark Wood, wicketless in the First Test, provided the other key threat and eventually he got his reward, pinning Chandimal lbw in an epic eight-over spell in the final session. He had plugged away gallantly, regularly well over 90mph, worrying the batsmen and hitting Chandimal on the grille.

Mathews soon reached his classy century, before he and Niroshan Dickwella played for stumps. England are in a war of attrition they expected.

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