James Anderson showed once again that he remains England’s main man but it was Angelo Mathews that shone brightest to put Sri Lanka in a good position at the end of day one of the second Test.
Dinesh Chandimal had no hesitation in opting to bat after winning the toss and he will have been delighted with the outcome after Sri Lanka closed on 229-4, and they are now favourites to win (Sri Lanka 5/6, Draw 23/10, England 7/2 – 2nd Test Match Betting).
The Sri Lanka skipper might have been forgiven for thinking that he may have got it wrong again when the evergreen Anderson, brought in for Stuart Broad in England’s only change, made a scintillating start by removing Kusal Perera (6) and Oshada Fernando (0) quickly to reduce the hosts to 7-2.
England’s premier bowler also struck shortly after lunch to dismiss first-Test centurion Lahiru Thirimanne (43) and leave Sri Lanka at a precarious 76-3, but the home side showed what they lacked in the first innings last week, guts and determination, to steadily improve their position.
And it was Mathews who lead from the front, putting on 69 for the third wicket with Thirimanne, before sharing a 117-run stand with his skipper to give his side the edge of what was an attritional day of Test match cricket.
Chandimal could not quite sustain his effort as he became Mark Wood’s first victim of the tour, trapped in front for 52, but Mathews remained unbowed.
The 33-year-old crucially weathered a late burst with the new ball as he and Niroshan Dickwella (19) shared 36 runs late on with Mathews resilient to the end, finishing unbeaten on 107, having faced 228 balls.
He will be hoping to kick on on day two to put up a challenging first-innings total (20/21 – Over 399.5 Runs – Innings 1 Total Runs), while Chandimal will be hoping that the pitch deteriorates enough for his side to take the 20 wickets required to win the match and level the series.
With little assistance for either the pace or spin bowlers, Anderson excelled once again – finishing the day with figures of 3-24 off 19 overs, which included ten maidens – and he feels that England are still in the game, but accepts there is plenty more work to do.
Speaking to the BBC, Anderson said: “As a group, the seam bowlers in particular, we put in the hard yards today.
“To keep them down to 230 on a flat wicket is good, we’re in the game, but we’ve got to bowl well tomorrow when we come back.”