GALLE (Agencies): Lahiru Thirimanne led Sri Lanka’s gallant fightback to cut England’s lead to 130 after captain Joe Root hit his fourth double test century on the third day of the first cricket test on Saturday.
Root’s 228 had provided England a strong total of 421 and a meaningful first innings lead of 286, but Thirimanne stood firm for two sessions to remain unbeaten on 76 off 189 balls and carried Sri Lanka to 156-2 at stumps.
Thirimanne’s patient knock which included six boundaries was in sharp contrast to Sri Lanka’s first innings effort when the whole team was rattled for 135 in two sessions on the first day. England had an opportunity to remove Thirimanne soon after the left-hander had completed his half century, but Dom Sibley spilled a two-handed catch at gully.
England also wasted one of its three reviews as it unsuccessfully went for an lbw decision against Thirimanne when he was on 61. Thirimanne and Kusal Perera started a steady fightback with their 101-run opening wicket stand as they thwarted the spin threat of Jack Leach and Dom Bess on a turning wicket.
Perera shelved his strokemaking in scoring 62 off 109 balls and even batted with a strapped hand after he was struck by Mark Wood’s short pitch delivery in the middle session before England struck twice after tea. Perera threw away his wicket early in the last session when he played a rash shot off Sam Curran’s wayward delivery and holed out in the deep.
Kusal Mendis, who had failed to score in his previous four test innings, labored for 65 deliveries in scoring 15 runs, but added 54 runs with Thirimanne to defy England’s hopes of making inroads. Leach finally struck in the penultimate over of the day when he found the thin edge of Mendis’ bat to provide England some relief.
Earlier, Root hit 18 fours and a six in his well-composed double century off 321 balls before England was bowled out just before lunch. Dilruwan Perera ended Root’s long vigil, which began in the last session on the first day, when he had England’s skipper caught at deep mid-wicket off an extravagant shot as the offspinner finished with 4-109.
Resuming on 320-4, Root continued to dominate spinners despite Sri Lanka hitting back with three wickets in 12 balls. Fast bowler Asitha Fernando (2-44) had the overnight batsman Jos Buttler (30) caught behind and Sam Curran was clean bowled off the next ball before Bess, who survived the hat-trick ball was run-out in a mix-up with Root.
But in between those quick wickets, Root raised his double hundred off 291 balls with a slog-swept boundary off Lasith Embuldeniya (3-176) and became the fourth visiting player to score a double century at the picturesque Galle International Stadium. Chris Gayle (333) of the West Indies, India’s Virender Sehwag (201 not out) and Musfiqur Rahim (200) of Bangladesh are the other batsmen to have achieved similar feats at Galle.
No. 11 batsman Broad (11 not out) took back to back boundaries off Fernando before Root was the last man to be dismissed just at the stroke of first session.