Adil Rashid and Ben Stokes may be cricket’s answer to yin and yang, but on a remarkable afternoon in Colombo they joined forces to blow away Sri Lanka and hasten Joe Root’s quest for a famous 3-0 victory.
Replying to England’s 336 – a total which felt at least 75 below par – Sri Lanka had advanced ominously to 173 for one as tea approached on the second day of the third Test. History was in danger of slipping through their fingers.
Root had dropped two catches off Stuart Broad, leading edges plopped to safety, and Dimuth Karunaratne and Dhananjaya de Silva were bedding in, just as Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara used to do as a matter of course at Colombo’s run-laden SSC.
England celebrate taking Sri Lanka’s final wicket on day two of the final Test in Colombo
Adil Rashid was in fine form, taking five wickets as Sri Lanka were dismissed for 240
Ben Foakes (left) and Keaton Jennings celebrate after taking the wicket of Dimuth Karunaratne
It was the kind of day England had dreaded before the series began. It was the kind of day that triggers cliches about dead rubbers and wake-up calls.
And then it all changed, as violently as the electric storm that had drenched the city on Friday night. An hour and a half after the break, Sri Lanka were all out for 240, having lost nine for 67 in 18 overs. It was unclear which team were the more shocked.
Rashid had a career-best five for 49 plus a run-out, and Stokes three for 30 from 10 overs of short-pitched aggression, in which he pinned Karunaratne in the ribs and Kusal Mendis on the right hand, and generally exuded menace.
Spin and pace, guile and grunt, leg-breaks and near bone-breakers – it is combination beloved of Test captains down the ages, and it proved irresistible.
From nowhere, England had burgled a lead of 96, which they extended by three before bad light closed in with half an hour to go, and the skies unburdened themselves once more. Not since their tour of the Caribbean in the spring of 2004 have they won three successive Tests away from home. They have their chance now.
Sri Lanka’s collapse appeared to have a life of its own, like the arm of the Pakistani umpire who once erroneously gave Mike Brearley out and later apologised, saying he had lost control of his limb. Yet without some stunning work from Keaton Jennings at short leg, the Sri Lankans might still be batting.
Karunaratne reacts in pain after being hit by a delivery from England bowler Ben Stokes
Stokes took three Sri Lanka wickets as England put themselves in a commanding position
HOW THE COLLAPSE UNFOLDED…
An incredible afternoon for England saw them collect nine wickets in 111 deliveries, for just 67 runs. It took just 130 minutes – and that includes 20 minutes for tea! Here, Sportsmail looks at how it unfolded in Colombo…
2.26pm/47.3: Dhananjaya de Silva (c Jennings b Rashid 73) – de Silva prods forward at a full ball from Adil Rashid and pokes the ball straight to Keaton Jennings at short leg who claimed his second catch of the innings. 173-2
3.11pm/51.6: Dimuth Karunaratne (c Jennings b Rashid 83) – In the first over after tea, Rashid and Jennings combine again as the left-handed Karunaratne feathers the ball on to his pad and watches it loop up into the hands of short-leg. 187-3
3.24pm/54.1: Angelo Mathews (c Foakes b Stokes 5) – Superb glove and footwork from Ben Foakes who changes direction and dives low to his right to smother a miscued pull shot from Mathews that clipped the toe-end of the bat. 200-4
3.35pm/55.6: Roshen Silva (c Jennings b Rashid 3) – what a catch! Jennings snaffles his fourth catch of the innings and it’s a beauty. Rosheen pushes a Rashid googly to his left, Jennings sticks out his left hand and clings on to the catch inches above the ground. 205-5
4.03pm/60.2: Niroshan Dickwella (c Foakes b Stokes 5) – Stokes picks up his second wicket as Dickwella tickles a short ball down the leg side into the waiting hands of Foakes. 222-6
4.09pm/61.1: Kusal Mendis (c Stokes b Rashid 27) – Mendis goes back to a turning leg-break from Rashid and steers the ball straight to Stokes at first-slip. 222-7
4.15pm/62.1: Dilruwan Perera (c Foakes b Stokes 0) – Another short ball from Stokes. Another edge, this time off the glove. And another catch for Foakes. 222-8
4.21pm/62.5: Lakshan Sandakan (run out Rashid 2) – Calamitous running from Sandakan who sees Rashid fumble the ball at mid-off, sets off for a single, only for Rashid to recover and throw the stumps down. 224-9
4.36pm/65.5: Malinda Pushpakumara (lbw b Rashid 13) – A short leg-break from Rashid thuds on to Pushpakumara’s pad. It’s given out, reviewed, but the decision stands. Rashid has five wickets and Sri Lanka’s collapse is complete. 240-10
He had already advertised his credentials for the job at Pallekele, and set about proving that had been no fluke. For the first 47 overs, all England had to show for their efforts was the wicket of Danushka Gunathilaka, caught by Jennings off Jack Leach as he moved to his right at short leg in anticipation and collected the ball in his breadbasket via a deflection off the batsman’s pad.
Then, with tea a few overs away, he was at it again. De Silva, on 73, worked Rashid off his pads, and Jennings stuck out his left hand, as if swatting a fly. And from the sixth ball after the break, he collected an easier offering at short backward square as Karunaratne, having played superbly for 83, tickled Rashid round the corner.
But the coup de grace was an instinctive grab at short leg, again with his left hand, to see off the dangerous Roshen Silva. Jennings wheeled away, perhaps marvelling at the curious direction his career has taken in the past fortnight. Short leg is not normally a position craved by 6ft 4in opening batsmen, but his fielding has become one of the leitmotifs of the tour.
By then Stokes was deep into a tireless spell of bouncers, mainly from round the wicket, and had got rid of Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka’s best batsman, toe-ending an attempted pull and caught by Ben Foakes, who had initially been wrong-footed. It was the first wicket for an England seamer in this series since the first Test in Galle.
Karunaratne winces with pain after getting to his feet after being hit by the Stokes delivery
Jack Leach throws the ball in from the boundary during England’s impressive day two display
Moments later, Foakes was wringing his left hand after an awkward take, prompting Jonny Bairstow – smiling once more after his first-day century – to limber up in the outfield as he sniffed an unexpected route back to the gloves.
But Foakes pulled himself together, and almost immediately caught Niroshan Dickwella down the leg side during the Stokes bombardment. That made it 222 for six – and it was soon 222 for eight: Mendis poked Rashid to Stokes at slip, and Dilruwan Perera flinched Stokes to Foakes.
When Rashid ran out Lakshan Sandakan after misfielding at mid-off, Sri Lanka had lost four for two. The collapse was complete 16 runs later when Rashid pinned Malinda Pushpakumara to surpass the five for 64 he had taken on debut against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi three years earlier. They were the best Test figures by an England leg-spinner since Tommy Greenhough in 1959.
He had bowled beautifully, even if he benefited from Jennings’s Inspector Gadget arms and some headless Sri Lankan batting, itself a consequence of the roughing-up at the other end by Stokes.
Joe Root lies on the Colombo turf after missing a catch off the bowling of Stuart Broad
Dhananjaya de Silva scored 83 runs for the hosts before being dismissed by Rashid
The torrent of wickets after tea meant England could gloss over what had preceded it. Resuming on 312 for seven, they lost their last three in a hurry to batting that was more frantic than the situation demanded.
Moeen Ali followed a pair of dreamy cover-drives off Suranga Lakmal with a languid loft to long-off, Broad was bowled round his legs second ball to hand Sandakan a Test-best five for 95, and Leach had a slog. From 235 for three on the first afternoon, 336 was an anticlimax.
And England’s mood did not improve when Root dropped Karunaratne at first slip off Broad when he had just two. When the captain repeated the trick soon after lunch, this time reprieving de Silva on 42, Broad did well to keep his cool.
It looked as if missed opportunities would be the story of the day. But England have spent the last three weeks tearing up the narrative – and they were not about to stop now.