Ben writes a Foakeslore

Af­ter early chaos, debu­tant emerges as Eng­land’s hero with 87 not out in first Test ver­sus SL

Sport360 - - England v Sri Lanka - By Rory Dol­lard @thervd ✉ ed­i­to­rial@sport360.com

Debu­tant Ben Foakes was Eng­land’s un­ex­pected saviour with the bat on day one of the first Test against Sri Lanka, help­ing re­write what was threat­en­ing to be­come a fa­mil­iar script in Galle.

The Sur­rey wick­et­keeper was not even in the orig­i­nal tour­ing party, a late call-up as cover for the in­jured Jonny Bairstow, but ended his first day in in­ter­na­tional cricket with a deeply as­sured 87 not out to his name and dreams of a sec­ond day cen­tury when play re­sumes.

Hav­ing suc­cess­fully per­suaded the se­lec­tors he was the best glove­man for the job, he gave what would have been a re­sound­ing au­di­tion for a spe­cial­ist bat­ting spot, ar­riv­ing at the crease with his side in strife at 103 for five and walk­ing off hav­ing shep­herded them to 321 for eight.

The top or­der had im­ploded dur­ing a typ­i­cally fran­tic morn­ing on for­eign soil, sev­eral self-in­flicted wounds leav­ing them on the verge of col­lapse. But Foakes suc­cess­fully re­booted the en­tire in­nings. Possi- bly the match it­self. Maybe even the course of the se­ries. He bat­ted with calm au­thor­ity over 184 de­liv­er­ies, blunt­ing the Sri Lankan spin­ners and gen­tly turn­ing the tide with late as­sis­tance from Sam Cur­ran (48).

Eng­land’s team was lighter on ex­pe­ri­ence by 342 caps since its last out­ing in Septem­ber – the re­tired Alas­tair Cook, the in­jured Bairstow and the dropped Stu­art Broad re­placed by first-timers in Rory Burns and Foakes and rookie spin­ner Jack Leach, play­ing in just his sec­ond Test.

Burns was first into the game, turn­ing his third ball in in­ter­na­tional cricket to the mid-wicket ropes and clip­ping an­other bound­ary past mid-on.

The bright start quickly floun­dered, though, Burns feath­er­ing Su­ranga Lak­mal off his hip and into the wick­et­keeper’s gloves – the kind of dis­missal bats­men curse and bowler’s glee­fully ac­cept.

That brought Moeen Ali to the crease for his lat­est – and pos­si­bly last – at­tempt to pa­per over the prob­lems at num­ber three. It lasted ex­actly one ball, Lak­mal find­ing the per­fect an­gle to zip past his de­fences and take out off stump.

Keaton Jen­nings and Joe Root ral­lied with a 62-run stand but their part­ner­ship hardly calmed the nerves. As well as two un­suc­cess­ful re­views – both en­er­get­i­cally pur­sued by Niroshan Dick­wella – Jen­nings edged be­tween keeper and slip and was hor­ri­bly dropped by An­gelo Mathews on 26.

In the end it was Root who buck­led. Over-con­fi­dent af­ter mak­ing a flu­ent 35, he ran down the track to­wards re­tir­ing hero Ran­gana Herath but failed to make con­tact af­ter york­ing him­self. That was the 40-year-old’s 100th wicket here, with fire­crack­ers set off over the Galle Fort to toast the oc­ca­sion.

By the end of the ses­sion Dil­ruwan Per­era had rat­tled the stumps twice more, Jen­nings cramped on a back­foot cut for a bat­tling 46 and Ben Stokes skit­tled at­tempt­ing a mess­ily am­bi­tious slog-sweep.

Af­ter reach­ing lunch with no fur­ther drama, Jos But­tler and Foakes re­set the tone in the af­ter­noon.

Good balls were watched and re­pelled, mis­takes in line or length seized upon safely and soft hands used to work the gaps. Af­ter a dizzy­ing morn­ing this was reg­u­la­tion Test cricket, and it worked.

But­tler was un­able to see it through, well held by Dick­wella for 38 af­ter nib­bling at Per­era’s arm­ball, but Foakes had warmed nicely to his task. Cur­ran took time to find his feet then ac­cel­er­ated sharply to 48, while Adil Rashid’s 35 came at al­most a run-a-ball, with five sixes be­tween the pair. Foakes will be re­ly­ing on Leach and James An­der­son to help him to a cen­tury.

Brief scores Eng­land 321 for 8 (Foakes 87*, Leach 14*, Dil­ruwan 4-70) v Sri Lanka

Stand­ing tall: Ben Foakes stead­ied the ship for a trou­bled Eng­land.

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