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