“I’ll level with you, Tim,” says Steve Pye. “I’m a bit scared.”
Drinks: too close to call
27th over: England 100-4 (Sibley 34, Buttler 4) Sibley edges a cut for four – by nutmegging Dickwella. That should keep him quiet for at least five seconds. And they go to drinks, with the final act beautifully set up and the past hour belonging to Sri Lanka. England need 64, Sri Lanka need six wickets, and Embuldeniya probably fancies the lot of them.
Meanwhile David Reynolds is back in his role as counsel for the prosecution. “I take your point about Bairstow being a good player of spin, but India’s crucial dangermen are now quickies. And, particularly if he’s at number 3, Bairstow’s far more likely to come in to face Bumrah and Sharma than Ashwin – and those are exactly the sort of the bowlers that Bairstow has a long track record of being bowled by while playing wildly extravagant drives.” Fair point. Shall we agree to differ?
26th over: England 94-4 (Sibley 28, Buttler 4) Jos Buttler cover-drives Mendis for four, wristily. He could get the job done fast here, if Sibley can just give him the strike. The camera finds Root on the England balcony, picking his nails: the only surprise is that he’s not biting them.
Wicket!! Lawrence c Dickwella b Embuldeniya 2 (England 89-4)
Yes, caught behind. Dan Lawrence comes down to earth. And Embuldeniya has ten wickets in the match! He’s been phenomenal, with the ball, then the bat, then the ball again, and thanks to him we could have a cliffhanger.
Wicket? Lawrence in trouble
Looks like an inside edge onto the pad, and the soft signal is out.
24th over: England 88-3 (Sibley 26, Lawrence 2) Off-spin should suit Sibley down to the ground, as the ball is already going the way he loves to nudge it. He’s been out-scored two-to-one today by his four partners, but he’s slowly warming to the task and he picks up two more singles off Mendis. England need 76.
23rd over: England 85-3 (Sibley 24, Lawrence 1) Lawrence, who made the rookie error of taking a single off the last ball of the previous over, just about gets through a maiden from Embuldeniya.
22nd over: England 85-3 (Sibley 24, Lawrence 1) Root had just played a peach of a shot, a dancing off-drive, but he has to go, with just the 426 runs to his name in this series.
And here’s Em Jackson. “If I may hop on this cricket ground band-wagon at 09:55, I offer you Durham’s Chennai-le-Street.” Ha. It’s not a raging turner in my experience, but give it a few more years of global heating…
Wicket! Root b Mendis 11 (England 84-3)
That’s the big one! After missing those two sweeps, Root gloves this one and deflects it onto leg stump. That’s a triumph for the debutant Mendis. England need another 80, and wherever they go in the world, they always carry a collapse in their back pocket.
21st over: England 78-2 (Sibley 23, Root 6) A play-and-miss from Sibley, lunging at Embuldeniya.
20th over: England 76-2 (Sibley 22, Root 5) Root misses a sweep! And another one. He’s human after all.
“I must quibble with your good self and Daniel Shepherd.” Quibble away, David Reynolds. “I think the madness more lies in pretending that Bairstow is any longer one of the best 11 or even 22 English Test match cricketers, or believing that scores of 47, 35 not out, 28, and 29 should change the selectors previous conclusion that he was not. Before those four innings, he had a very long record of reckless low scores, including an average of 18.4 in 20 Test match innings before Galle. Even though I do not agree with it, I can imagine a case for Bairstow, but the idea I keep encountering that he has suddenly become undroppable without even getting to 50 seems ridiculous to yours truly.” Two points. One, poor old Bairstow is always droppable. Two, you’re picking a top five to face India on a turning pitch, who do you want? I suspect we can all agree that it’s Root first, Stokes second. For me, right now, Bairstow is third in that queue. And let’s take the numbers with a pinch of salt: today’s 29, like the 47 and 35, was worth double.
19th over: England 72-2 (Sibley 20, Root 4) Sibley uses his feet to clip Embuldeniya for two, and enjoys it so much, he tries it again next ball, adding a single. Twenty from an England opener! Riches.
18th over: England 66-2 (Sibley 16, Root 2) All Sibley has to do is give Root the strike, but he can’t find a way. That’s the first maiden from Perera in this innings. One more wicket and England will have the jitters.
17th over: England 66-2 (Sibley 16, Root 2) Root is making it look easy again. Sibley is not, but he manages a shovel into the gap at midwicket. The target is in double figures now – 98 to go.
“If Taunton is Ciderabad,” wonders Geoffey Smith, “is Harrogate Bittergong?” Love it.
16th over: England 64-2 (Sibley 15, Root 1) Root gets off the mark with a tuck into the on side. His reward is to be serenaded by Randy Caddick, the one-man Barmy Army up on the ramparts, with a chorus of Joe Root, to the tune of Hey Jude.
Here’s Daniel Shepherd. “A light Google reveals there are single air fares from Sri Lanka to India for not much more than $200. Considering a whip round for Jonny Bairstow’s seat. Anyone else keen to chip in? I’m assuming we can all agree it would be utter madness to allow him to go back to Blighty.” It would. Pull him out of the one-day series at the end! I wrote about this in yesterday’s Observer.
15th over: England 62-2 (Sibley 14, Root 0) That was a big wicket, and here comes an even bigger one: Joe Root. He starts by going back, as he has done a thousand times in this series. It’s becoming clear that he spent the November lockdown watching videos of Keith Fletcher.
Wicket! Bairstow LBW b Embuldeniya 29 (England 62-2)
Umpire’s call! It was an arm ball, pushed through at some pace, and it was clipping leg stump. A ninth wicket in the match for Lasith of the Rovers.
Wicket? Bairstow given LBW
Pinned on the back foot, and the review is more in desperation than expectation.
14th over: England 62-1 (Sibley 14, Bairstow 29) Bairstow plays yet another reverse-sweep for four, off Perera, and Sibley chips in with a miss that goes for four leg byes. The target is down to 102.
13th over: England 53-1 (Sibley 14, Bairstow 24) Bairstow had come out bristling, tucking the first ball from Embuldeniya for two and reverse-sweeping the second for four before that brush with mortality. He has 24 off only 20 balls, and England need another 111.
“No bat or glove involved,” says the third umpire. “Upper hand!” Well, yes, Bairstow does have the upper hand here. But I suspect the ump got that wrong, and there was a flick of the wristband section of the glove.
Review! And it’s not Sibley
Bairstow misses a reverse sweep, and the Sri Lankans, unlike the umpire, detect a hint of glove.
And here’s Brian Withington. “As ever, Paul Simon has penned something wistful (if a little premature) for the occasion…
So long, Sri-lank-a
I can’t believe your series gone so soon
I barely learned the tune
So soon, so soon
I’ll remember Sri-Lank-a
All of the nights we’d OBO ‘til dawn
I never stared so long
So long, so long
Cricket tours may come, and cricket tours may go
And never change your point of view
When the runs dry
I’ll stop awhile and think of you
So long, Embuldeniya
All of the nights you’d spin the ball ‘til dawn
I never watched so long
So long, so long
So long, so long
So long, so long
(So long already, Rootie!)
Maybe it needs a bit more work.” Too modest! I hope Paul Simon realises what a big part he’s now playing in international cricket.
A tweet from John Etheridge of The Sun. “If Sri Lanka can run out Root,” he reckons, “they have a decent chance.”
“The real competition that is hotting up,” says Robin Hazlehurst, “is for Man of the Match. Root’s two wickets greatly enhanced the claim made by his batting and must leave him in pole position, but Embuldeniya’s batting cameo extended his claim from his bowling. How many second-innings wickets will he need to beat Root for the bubbly? Or will it simply be whichever of them ends up on the winning side?” Another five-for would be hard to argue with, but you’re probably right, it’ll be a case of to the victor, the spoils.
An email from Danny Eccleston. “Standing on the shoulders of giants,” he says, “or at least, Brian Withington (07.39): if Taunton is Ciderabad, then wouldn’t Chelmsford be Lagerabad?” It would!
Tea: England on top, just about
12th over: England 46-1 (Sibley 14, Bairstow 17) Aside from that one great delivery to Crawley, the only batsman who’s been in any trouble here is Sibley, whose quirky technique soon becomes a liability on a turning pitch. He would have been out to each of those LBW appeals if the on-field umpire had liked the look of them. But he survives and gets to enjoy a cup of tea with England sitting pretty-ish. The target is down to 118, Joe Root is still to come, and the top order has finally managed to give him a breather.
Sibley? Check. LBW? Check? Not given? Check. Brushing leg? Check. Umpire’s call? Check. But this time the bowler is Perera.
11th over: England 45-1 (Sibley 14, Bairstow 16) Before the review, there had been a couple more singles. England have been so positive, ticking along at four an over, even off the all-conquering Embuldeniya.
And he was right, sort of – umpire’s call, brushing leg.
Review! For LBW against Sibley
Not given, because the ump thought the ball, from Embuldeniya, was going down…
10th over: England 43-1 (Sibley 13, Bairstow 15) After that superb incident, the ball is changed. I do hope they give Bairstow the whitewashed one to put in his trophy cabinet.
“Root’s hat-trick,” says an email. “A joke? That is known as the Trump-bleach defence, and not entirely convincing.” Trump?! That’s a bit strong. “But you have the benefit of the doubt, since you have provided excellent service this morning as usual.” Phew. The signature says “John Moloney, enjoying the OBO in Denmark whilst ostensibly writing the definitive hiker’s guide to Ærø”.
9.1 overs: England 41-1 (Sibley 12, Bairstow 14) That funky guard is working for Bairstow, who sweeps Mendis for six. And to add insult to injury, he manages to land the ball in a bucket of whitewash. Well, he does prefer white-ball cricket.
9th over: England 35-1 (Sibley 12, Bairstow 8) Double figures for Sibley too! He gets there with his first attacking shot, a crisp sweep for four off Embuldeniya. Bairstow follows up with a reverse sweep, also for four, and the target is down to 129.
8th over: England 24-1 (Sibley 7, Bairstow 3) Chandimal replaces one off-spinner with another, Ramesh Mendis, but to no instant avail. Bairstow is taking guard on or even outside off, and it’s working for him.
7th over: England 21-1 (Sibley 5, Bairstow 2) Bairstow, who ran the little run chase in the first Test, is looking purposeful again. Four balls, two runs, two sweeps, no fuss.
“Oh, come now,” says John Starbuck, picking up on my line about Joe Root (8:22). “You know very well that a hat-trick sequence cannot be carried over to a different game, let alone one against a different opponent. It might still make Root’s day if it happens and persuade him to bowl a little more, but let’s get to that stage without cheating, eh?” Can I plead not guilty, on the grounds that it was an attempted joke?
6th over: England 19-1 (Sibley 4, Bairstow 1) The Sri Lankans have seen so little of Dom Sibley that they have three men in the deep for him. He’s a blocker! Which is a lot easier if the fielders are on the boundary rather than crowding round the bat.
5th over: England 17-1 (Sibley 3, Bairstow 0) The scorecard will say that Crawley failed for the fourth time out of four, but there wasn’t much he could do about that, and he gave this England innings some of the impetus it needed.
Wicket! Crawley c O Fernando b Embuldeniya 13 (England 17-1)
Embuldeniya bowls the perfect ball for the first time today, turning and bouncing from a length, and Crawley can only nick it – to the keeper, who fumbles it but passes the parcel to gully.
4th over: England 16-0 (Crawley 12, Sibley 3) Another milestone: double figures! Crawley gets there with a cut for two off Perera, then celebrates with a reverse sweep for two more. He has decided that attack is the best form of defence, and he’s surely right.
3rd over: England 12-0 (Crawley 8, Sibley 3) Two more singles, plus a no-ball (and a play-and-miss from Sibley), and this is now England’s highest opening partnership of the series. These two have managed 10, 3, 4 and now 12. They are good friends, and it would be great to see them put on 50 here.
2nd over: England 9-0 (Crawley 7, Sibley 2) Spin from both ends, with Dilruwan Perera’s off breaks joining Embuldeniya’s slow left-arm. No alarms, just a couple more singles.
1st over: England 7-0 (Crawley 6, Sibley 1) A positive start. Embuldeniya, perhaps still reeling form his success with the bat, gives Zak Crawley a freebie – a full toss, which he clips through midwicket. Then there are three singles, which is even more encouraging. Keep the scoreboard ticking, just like Joe Root.
Now. Can England’s openers do a bit better? They’ve made 28 for six between them in the series so far, and all six wickets have gone to Embuldeniya, who is, of course, about to open the bowling.
Well, that was a rollercoaster. Sri Lanka collapsed to 78 for eight, bounced back with a sparky stand of 48, and then resumed the collapse by losing two wickets in two balls. The game distilled itself into a duel. Lasith Embuldeniya, with a seven-for under his belt already, had a go and made a career-best 40. Joe Root, still not knackered after making 228 and 186, popped up with two for none. When he comes on to bowl next month in Chennai, he will be on a hat-trick.
All ten wickets in Sri Lanka’s second innings fell to spin, after all ten fell to seam in their first. Test cricket, the gift that keeps on giving.
Wicket!!! Fernando b Root 0 (SL 126 all out)
Two in two! Fernando tries to offer a dead bat outside off stump, but succeeds only in playing on. Bowling, Rooty – 11 balls, no runs, two wickets. And England need 164 to win.
Wicket!! Embuldeniya c Bairstow b Root 40 (SL 126-9)
Got him! Root’s faith in himself pays off as he bowls a full one, doing nothing much, and Embuldeniya, flummoxed by the simplicity of it, gives a catch to Bairstow at slip. That was the gentle practice Bairstow could have done with before the previous over. End of a cavalier cameo that grew into a game-changer.
35th over: Sri Lanka 126-8 (Lakmal 11, Embuldeniya 40) Now Lakmal has come to the party, going down the track to Bess and mis-timing it beautifully to the long-off boundary. The lead is 163, and Sri Lanka are surely thinking they can square the series, though they may need Embuldeniya to bowl from both ends.
34th over: Sri Lanka 120-8 (Lakmal 6, Embuldeniya 39) Root does do something: he brings himself on. And he draws the edge… but it’s dropped at slip. Any other spinner would have Root there, whereas Root has Bairstow – but it went fast, no blame attached.
33rd over: Sri Lanka 120-8 (Lakmal 6, Embuldeniya 39) Another slog-sweep, off Bess this time. This is now Embuldeniya’s highest first-class score, beating his previous best, 26, by a good 50 per cent. Root needs to do something sharpish – a bit of Anderson, maybe?
32nd over: Sri Lanka 115-8 (Lakmal 6, Embuldeniya 34) Unlike his supposed superiors, Embuldeniya has a plan. And the plan is: have a mow. He slog-sweeps Leach for four, then thwacks him into the covers for four more. He has faced just 26 balls, the same as his partner Lakmal. The lead is over 150 now. Game on!
31st over: Sri Lanka 106-8 (Lakmal 6, Embuldeniya 25) Bess restores order – a couple of edges, but suddenly they won’t go to hand. Embuldeniya’s cameo has changed the script.
30th over: Sri Lanka 104-8 (Lakmal 5, Embuldeniya 24) Thanks Daniel and hello everyone. Embuldeniya emboldened! He swings Leach for four, bisecting two fielders on the rope, and then he goes the whole slog and hits a straight six. Not content with taking a seven-for, he is now the top scorer in this innings. And he is giving himself something to play with in the fourth innings: the lead is 141.
29th over: Sri Lanka 92-8 (Lakmal 5, Embuldeniya 12) Embuldeniya drives, edging between keeper and slip for four; a single follows.
“Where has the declaration gone from the modern game?” asks Niall Mullen. “Sri Lanka clearly have more than enough runs already but there’s absolutely no sign of them being called in.”
I love that. The match is won and it’s the last of the series, but they’re going to grind England into gristle nonetheless. Hard cricket at its best. Anyhow, that’s it from me – here’s Tim de Lisle to soothe you through what is going to be a deliciously comforting soul-shredder.
28th over: Sri Lanka 87-8 (Lakmal 5, Embuldeniya 7) Sanga reckons that Sri Lanka’s batsmen saw Root’s success with the sweep so decided to deploy their own, without grasping the need to use it at the right time. They also made the fatal error of trying to bat like Root without being Root – let’s be real, we’ve all done it – so here we are. Two singles off the over.
27th over: Sri Lanka 85-8 (Lakmal 4, Embuldeniya 6) It’s a funny thing, this. England’s spinners will now go to India with renewed confidence, which is a good thing. But might this effort persuade Joe Root to trust them prematurely? There’s not a chance Kohli, Rahane and pals turn up into the middle with no apparent plan as to what they might do once they arrive, but in the meantime, a pair of singles precede Embuldeniya driving four through cover.
“I almost don’t know whether to hope for a further rapid fall of Sri Lanka’s last four wickets,” says Brian Withington, “or some evidence that the pitch is still relatively benign. England must channel their inner Essex, who have recently thrived on turning first innings deficits into plucky wins at the home of the raging Day 4 bunsen that is Chelmsfordabad. Not so YJB and ever so YDL to the fore, and no-one run out the skipper!
I feel a Paul Simon lyric stirring …”
26th over: Sri Lanka 79-8 (Lakmal 3, Embuldeniya 1) This has been another performance of extreme shoddiness from Sri Lanka’s batsmen, though England have bowled better than they did in the first innings of the first Test. A flick to mid on gets Embuldeniya off the mark, the only run from the other.
WICKET! Mendis c Buttler b Leach 16 (Sri Lanka 78-8)
Four apiece for the world-famous spin twins! Mendis’ sweep did indeed hit boot but not ground and if anyone was going to spot that, it was Joseph Buttler, first not out then out doing that yesterday. I believe they call that irony – in sport, at least. In real life, they call it a coincidence, but either way Sri Lanka are 115 ahead and they’ll not be adding many more.
25th over: Sri Lanka 78-7 (Mendis 16, Lakmal 3) Bess sees Mendis come forward, sweep, and there’s an appeal for a catch! Not out says the umpire but Buttler requests the review – Root must be off the pitch – and was that boot and out caught? Shirley not!