Sri Lanka vs England: Dom Sibley wraps up second Test victory by six wickets to clinch series

A six-wicket win by chasing a target of 164, sealed with a day to spare to take a series 2-0. Without filling in the blanks, that looks a lot like dominance from England over Sri Lanka. And, really, that is what it was. There may have been dips and turns over the last two weeks, but day four of the second Test encapsulated the tourist’s composure in crunch situations, albeit in fast-forward.

They lost both tosses on two very different Galle pitch and came through in the last innings. Here, they faced a deficit of 37 before the second innings got underway, dismissed for 344 early on day four. But a remarkable fightback as 15 wickets fell across 81.1 overs of play saw England pick off 164 to triumph with relative ease. That’s now five successive wins away from home, the first time they’ve enjoyed such a run since a sequence of seven between 1911 and 1914.

Dom Sibley was the unlikely hero of the final hour. A tuck to the leg side for a single – one of many – took the opening batsman to 56 not out. His relief all the more pronounced given a lead up of four, two and nought coming into this innings. As men fell around him on a deceiving surface offering big bounce and bigger turn, he summoned 144 deliveries worth of fight for just over three hours to be there right to the end. Together, with an engaging hand from Jos Buttler, typically calculated and devastating with 46 off 48, the 75 needed from 89 for four came steadily.

He was fortuitous, of course, as those not called “Joe Root” are when succeeding in this part of the world. Three “umpire’s calls” went his way on LBW decisions sent to the third umpire for review. But those are more Sri Lanka’s worries than his, who will rue another shocker with the bat, bookending a series that began with 135 all out with a much worse 126.

However, the brunt of the credit for Monday’s heist belongs to Dom Bess and Jack Leach, taking four for 49 and four for 59 respectively to rip through Sri Lanka. Root contributed the final two without conceding a run, to go with his series tally of 426 and average of 106. But enough about the man of the series for now.

Just a few weeks ago Bess talked up how effective he and Leach could be. Though he had left for Yorkshire last summer, their bond, he felt, could serve England well. One that did right by Somerset on many occasions, characterised by Bess’s average of 23 and Leach’s average of 18 in the 19 matches where they have bowled in tandem. And, well, he wasn’t lying. They finish with 22 wickets combined (Bess 12, Leach 10) and a collective average of 27.73.

It was just a week ago had Somerset had a 12-point deduction reduced to eight. The crime, a Taunton pitched marked as substandard created to benefit their spinners in a title decider against Essex at the end of the 2019 summer. The reason for the downgraded penalty merely a reflection of a new 2021 first-class season of three regional groups rather the traditional two league competition.

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But perhaps now, after Jack Leach and Dom Bess bowled England to victory on day four at Galle, two spinners who have benefitted most from Taunton’s adoption of turning tracks, things might change. Maybe not necessarily the regulations – not just yet anyway, that kind of administrative thinking takes a lot longer to alter – but certainly the perception Somerset were doing the game wrong by producing such pitches.

To the visiting teams that have cried foul play, amplified by their supporters, here was the pay-off. Somerset themselves haven’t benefitted outright, still without a Championship, though Middlesex will be the first to remind you of relegation “play-off” that went against them at the end of 2017, when Leach (10) and Bess (two) combined for 12. The benefit is very much all England’s.

The pressure was on to perform. A poor first-innings display meant Joe Root had to rely on his seamers for all 10 dismissals in the first innings. And when Sri Lanka’s twirlers accounted for all of the non-Root wickets to dismiss England for 344, including the final wicket of Leach for off-spinner Dilruwan Perera’s first of the match 11 deliveries into Monday morning.

Bowling in tandem from the fourth over of the third innings, the Leach-Bess split the first eight evenly between them to reduce the tourists to 78 and a 115 ahead. Greater control and varying pace extracted enough bite to challenge both edges of the bat. Both were assisted by some excellent tall short-leg work from Zak Crawley: reacting to a glance off the face from Lahiru Thirimanne and a firm edge off the pad from Oshada Fernando.

They also benefitted from the kind of Sri Lankan batting that would have coach Mickey Arthur eating his shorts, if only for a light snack. Kusal Perera swept off the wrong length, Angelo Mathews swept off the wrong line, Dinesh Chandimal got greedy after a brace of fours to sky one for James Anderson to take a brilliant catch over his shoulder running back from mid on, while Niroshan Dickwella repeated his first innings error of spooning into extra cover. But even though batsmen shot themselves in the foot, Leach and Bess provided the guns and the bullets.

That they posted what looked a competitive, potentially match-winning target was down to Lasith Embuldeniya. The left-arm spinner had already sent down 42 overs to take seven for 137 in England’s first innings but carried the rest of teammates once more with a cameo of 40 that took the ask beyond 100.

His carefree approach jolted England. They began showing nerves for the first time on day four shelling catches, four in all, two off Embuldeniya. And as the eighth wicket stand chugged towards 50, and the lead beyond 150, on-field enthusiasm morphed into worry.

But it would fall to England’s own one-man-band to get rid of Sri Lanka’s. Root brought himself on, getting Emuldeniya caught by Jonny Bairstow at first slip – who dropped a similar combination the over before – then bowling number 11 Asitha Fernando off the next delivery to confirm a chase of 164.

Of course, this was never going to be the end of Root or Embuldeniya’s work. But there was at least some rest bite for Root, who has rivalled the umpires for time on the ground across these two Tests. For the first time in four battings innings, the number four came to the crease after the ninth over with more than 17 on the scoreboard.

Both openers had made it to three figures for the first time this month, and Bairstow breezy into the final session ensure meaning there was 102 to get when Root arrived. Embuldeniya the reason he was there again, Zak Crawley (13) caught at gully and Bairstow (29) leg before.

The fear returned when Root (11) gloved onto his own stumps off Ramesh Mendis before Embuldeniya registered his first 10-wicket match when Dan Lawrence edged onto his pad and into Dickwella’s gloves.

But Sibley remained firm, the perfect anchor for Buttler to play freely while Embuldeniya toiled. The 24-year-old continued to plug away as the light faded alongside Sri Lanka’s hopes. His emergence as a world-class spinner with a bloody-minded attitude that they must build around during this rebuilding period.

For Root and England, sights are now set on a tough India tour. There is room for improvement and decisions to be made over the XI with form to scrutinise and marquee players returning. Yet they travel with the utmost confidence in their ability to dig deep and, most importantly, a knack of winning. 

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