In contrasting fashion, Sri Lanka and England approached their batting on the opening day of the Test in Galle, and the visitors produced considerably better results on the turner, finishing the day on 127 for 2 after bowling out the hosts for 135 - the lowest ever first innings score at the venue.
Unlike the hosts, England picked their timing of attack. For most parts of their innings, all batters were happier to be on the forward defensive, even if troubled and beaten for long stretches.
Dom Sibley, though, ended back in the pavilion when his attempted defense wasn't good enough as Lasith Embuldeniya got the ball to turn away and kiss the outside edge of his bat before heading to the slip fielder.
Soon enough, Zak Crawley joined his opening partner in the dressing room after failing to chip a delivery far enough and was caught by Wanindu Hasaranga, who took a catch running backwards. With England at 17 for 2, Sri Lanka were back on level terms in the contest for the first time since the first hour of play.
Thereafter, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow survived some disciplined spin bowling by Sri Lanka's duo of Dilruwan Perera and Embuldeniya. Root was even adjudged legbefore off the left-arm spinner before his review allowed him to prolong the innings. The English captain batted through to stumps, mostly defending but also ensuring that he was putting away the deliveries that offered him the opportunity. In the process, he brought up his 50th Test fifty and stretched the innings to 66 till the end of the day's play.
Bairstow, playing second fiddle in the partnership, maintained a similar tempo and approach. Despite looking more troubled that his captain, he maintained patience if not the application of the highest quality to finish the day on 47*, and take the team only 8 shy of Sri Lanka's first innings total. Together, the duo ensured that the good of Stuart Broad's early strikes and Dom Bess's fifer wasn't undone.
Electing to bat on Thursday (January 14), Sri Lanka returned poor results despite Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal's half-century stand. After being kept on the leash by some tight bowling early on by England's new-ball pair - Stuart Broad and Sam Curran - both of whom didn't get much movement but maintained probing lines, Sri Lanka lost wickets in clusters.
40 minutes into the day's play, Lahiru Thirimanne flicked a delivery angling towards him to Jonny Bairstow at leg slip. Two deliveries later, Kusal Mendis left his bat hanging outside off and edged Broad's legcutter to the 'keeper to register his fourth successive duck. Kusal Perera, who had a reprieve earlier in that over after Jack Leach misjudged a pull coming to him at long leg and moved to his right, couldn't make the most of his opportunity. He welcomed Dom bess into the attack with a reverse sweep that went in Root's hand to leave Sri Lanka down at 25 for 3.
Chandimal, who is standing in as captain after Dimuth Karunaratne fractured his thumb, and Mathews revived Sri Lanka's innings, as their partnership flourished after the Lunch break. Chandimal too had his moment of luck when his uppish drive was dropped by debutant Dan Lawrence at cover, when he was batting on 22. That, however, didn't cause much damage as he was dismissed after adding only six more when he played an uppish drive to mid off and was caught, adding to Sri Lanka's woes after they had lost Mathews to Broad only an over later.
Even as it was Leach who bowled better lines and lengths, often beating the batsmen, Bess returned five wickets - with the host batters refusing to go on the defensive. Niroshan Dickwella smashed the ball to the cover fielder, while Embuldeniya was unfortunate after a straight, hard hit from Wanindu Hasaranga ricocheted off Leach's hand and knocked the bails off at the non striker's end. Hasaranga, showing little desire to push to prolong the innings with the No 11, was cleaned up after he failed to connect a reverse sweep off Bess, to hand the offspinner his second Test fifer and register Sri Lanka's fourth lowest first innings score at home.
Despite the contrasting styles of play, England managed to score at a marginally faster clip that the hosts on a day they owned, just like their previous trip to the country.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 135 (Dinesh Chandimal 28, Angelo Mathews 27; Dom Bess 5-30, Stuart Broad 3-20) lead England 127/2 (Joe Root 66*, Jonny Bairstow 47*; Lasith Embuldeniya 2-55) by 8 runs. -cricbuzz