Rashid puts England in command
Spinner takes five wickets as England seize control Brilliant Jennings grabs four catches at short leg
Clever Trevor, yet again. From the moment he was installed as England’s head coach in 2015, Trevor Bayliss has always wanted the Test team to include an attacking No 3 batsman and two spinners, one of whom turns the ball both ways, according to the Australian ideal – and he being a Sydney-sider. Now they are fully equipped, Joe Root’s team have rocketed to No2 in the International Cricket Council rankings and are about to make their own piece of history as the first England team to make a 3-0 sweep in Sri Lanka.
The day after Jonny Bairstow slotted in as the attacking No3 by scoring 110, another Yorkshireman ran through Sri Lanka by spinning the ball both ways. It was Adil Rashid’s best Test performance – and his best Test figures – as he enjoyed the reduced pressure with the series already won and sliced through their first innings with five for 49. He bowled a steady line, only dragged the ball down once or twice, and blended his leg-break and googly in a perfect combination.
It was indeed a bowling partnership that would have made a stronger country than a demoralised Sri Lanka collapse as Rashid looped and turned his spinners from one end and Ben Stokes brought his battering ram at the other.
Stokes’s contribution was no less worthy, given that his three-wicket spell was delivered in sapping heat and he equalled the number of wickets that England’s pace bowlers had taken previously in this spin-dominated series: James Anderson, appearing here in a yellow bib as 12th man, Stuart Broad, who bowled quickly and had two slip catches dropped by Root, Sam Curran, who is injured, and Stokes himself.
Rashid and Stokes were finally paired after England’s three overnight wickets had added 24 more runs, to make a competent, but not formidable total of 336, and Sri Lanka had stroked their way to their strongest position in this series, 173 for one. Root had wisely allowed Broad and Jack Leach first use of the new ball – only to drop Dimuth Karunaratne to his right and Dhananjay de Silva to his left at widish slip, the batsmen then combining for a secondwicket stand of 142.
England had a third wicket-taker, not a bowler at all, but Keaton Jennings, who contributed four short-leg catches, one superlative and two brilliant. If only he brought such physical flexibility to his style of batting, his place as opener would not be in doubt.
The superlative catch was proactive, as he followed left-handed opener Danushka Gunathilaka down the pitch when he attacked Jack Leach, matching him stride for stride. Brave too, because when the left-hander swung to leg, Jennings kept his eyes on the ball, which came to him off bat and pad and which he pouched in his midriff, then hands. Jennings’s catch to dismiss Karunaratne was standard fare, a batand-pad chance induced by Rashid after tea. His other two catches were brilliant reactions. De Silva hit the ball straight to him, but it was a well-middled defensive stroke, at some pace; Roshen Silva inside-edged Rashid’s googly and Jennings took it in his left hand low down.
James Taylor did outstanding work at short leg for England’s pace bowlers in South Africa in 2015-16, but nobody – in the era of helmets at any rate – can have put on a finer display in the position than Jennings.
Ben Foakes badly damaged the fingers of his left hand when stopping a ball from Stokes on the half-volley. Bairstow waited patiently for the call – or recall – at deep square leg, but it never came. Foakes carried on to take three catches off Stokes as he bounced the Sri Lankans from over and round the wicket, getting them to edge a hook, or glance down leg side, or fend off their gloves to the keeper. But Stokes had to rattle the Sri Lankans first, in his spell of four overs before tea, followed by another six afterwards until he was almost out on his feet.
He hit Karunaratne in the chest, then Kusal Mendis on the wrist, before bouncing out his three wickets. One could only wonder at the standard of first-class domestic cricket in Sri Lanka if such a basic form of attack could be so rewarding on a slow pitch.
England, in truth, underperformed with the bat first time round, aside from Bairstow with his scintillating strokeplay: a little more patience and they would have made this match safe by posting 400-plus. But Sri Lanka were in no position to punish England, and after this series they face a difficult period against the fast bowlers of the southern hemisphere as they tour New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
Rashid almost caught up with his fellow spinners in this series, by reaching 12 wickets, against the 14 taken by Moeen Ali and Leach. He added a runout with a direct hit from mid-off, while Jennings also deserved a five-wicket haul of his own.
The best of his catches in this series – never forgetting his palming of a catch to Foakes off a sweep at Kandy – could have been entered in the scorebook simply as “c Jennings”, without any need to credit the bowler.
Dominant: Keaton Jennings (front left) along with bowler Adil Rashid (right) celebrate the dismissal of Sri Lanka’s Roshen Silva during the second day of the third Test