Hales and Root underpin England

hales-rootSri Lanka might have feared the only thing they could catch in Durham would be a cold, but instead they caught a collection of stunners to keep England just about in sight on the opening day of the second Test. Four of the wickets would easily fit into a ‘classic catches’ compilation and though the final score of 310 for 6 was healthy enough for England – and given the fragility of Sri Lanka’s batting may already be enough – there was a wastefulness about the dismissals.

Both England’s openers missed milestones; Alastair Cook left waiting a little longer still to reach the 10,000-run milestone which he has been on the cusp of since January and Alex Hales throwing away the chance of a maiden century for the second innings running. Joe Root’s iffy conversion rate did not improve when he fell for 80 and shortly before the close the in-form Jonny Bairstow, after adding 70 in 19 overs with Moeen Ali either side of the new ball, bottom edged Nuwan Pradeep who finished the day with a worthy 3 for 69.

Sri Lanka struck each time partnerships started to form. Hales and Root added 96 for the third wicket, the highest stand so far after Nick Compton’s lean run had continued when he was spectacularly caught at long leg by Suranga Lakmal from a top-edged hook. Hales moved to his fifty off 102 balls, clumping Rangana Herath over mid-on, but fell the ball after lofting Milinda Siriwardana straight for six when he tried to cut the left-arm spinner and Angelo Mathews held a stinging catch to his right at slip.

To have worked hard against some decent pace bowling in consecutive Tests and then fall attacking the spinner in May will have left Hales cursing. He had played confidently, boosted by his 86 at Headingley, with another astute display of attack and defence. In tricky conditions, he waited for a delivery he was sure he could take advantage of and the standout part of his batting was the off-side driving which brought five of his boundaries.

Nothing had seemed more certain than a Root century as he breezed his way into the 80s. He was jaunty before lunch, when scoring had been hard work for the top three against some tight bowling, and progressed serenely during the afternoon, with a 70-ball half-century, barring a tight stumping appeal against Herath when he just managed to push his back foot over the line.

A sluggish outfield kept the boundary count down, but Root’s deft placement and scampering between the wickets more than compensated to such an extent that England scored at four an over during the afternoon session. However, shortly after tea, Pradeep got a delivery to bounce awkwardly at Root and he spooned a catch into the covers – by far the simplest of the catches taken. Root had a face of thunder as he stomped off and thumped his bat as he strode up the pavilion steps: since the start of 2015 he has fallen between 70 and 98 on nine occasions.

James Vince, having shown glimpses of his cover driving, completed the quartet to be acrobatically dismissed when he carelessly drove in the air to short cover. It gave Siriwardana his second of the day and was bonus for Sri Lanka from a player brought in to strength the batting, at the expense of Dasun Shanaka, but it may also have left Herath scratching his head a little about when his 300th wicket would arrive.

There would have been a strong temptation for Cook to stick Sri Lanka in on overcast morning after they managed just 91 and 119 in similar conditions last week at Headingley. However, the occasional signs of uneven bounce and some turn for Herath suggested he made the correct call.

Cook had looked compact as he set out collecting the 20 needed to tick off the 10,000 landmark and played a delightful whip-pull to open his boundary account before, on the stroke of the first hour, he was undone by the round-the-wicket line of Lakmal which the paceman had switched to just the previous ball. The delivery was short of a length and could have been ignored, but Cook jabbed at it and the catch was held by a tumbling Dimuth Karunaratne at second slip to begin Sri Lanka’s impressive catching theme.

Both morning dismissals came from smart pieces of bowling with Pradeep out-thinking Compton with a rare bouncer. Lakmal put in a nine-over spell with the new ball although even that extended burst was unlikely to have worked up much of a sweat in conditions that saw the Sri Lankans retain multiple layers, but he certainly hadn’t cooled to a stand-still when Compton’s top edge flew in his direction. For a moment it appeared he had misjudged the chance, but managed to arch his body and take the ball diving backwards then, equally impressively, keep himself inside the boundary rope. It was reward for a hard-working spell from Pradeep, who had threatened the pads of the batsmen with some late movement.

Compton had spoken before the match about playing for his Test future, and a 34-ball stay which included a close call for lbw against Herath, which replays showed would have taken a good chunk of leg stump although was umpire’s call, and a dicey single will not have furthered his cause. This series began with question marks over both Compton and Hales after their uncertain returns in South Africa and already, less than halfway into the series, fortunes are diverging. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)

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