12th over: Sri Lanka 30-3 (Mathews 6, Chandimal 0) A fuller ball from Wood allows Mathews to move tentatively onto the front foot and time a nice drive for three. Wood looks sharp, and the speedgun supports the naked eye: the fifth delivery of the over is timed at 93mph.
11th over: Sri Lanka 25-3 (Mathews 1, Chandimal 0) The new batsman is the stand-in captain Dinesh Chandimal. It’s been a perfect start for England – but this is the big partnership. In the absence of Karunaratne, these two are surely Sri Lanka’s best players.
WICKET! Sri Lanka 25-3 (K Perera c Root b Bess 20)
Dom Bess strikes second ball! Kusal Perera has gloved a reverse sweep straight to Root at slip to end a feisty, foolhardy innings of 20 from 28 balls. That’s not the greatest shot in the history of Test cricket. I can understand Sri Lanka wanting to target Bess, but a reverse sweep second ball is probably pushing it.
10th over: Sri Lanka 25-2 (K Perera 20, Mathews 1) England want Wood to rough up Angelo Mathews, and he has a success of sorts when he breaks Mathews’ bat. The next ball cracks Mathews on the arm guard as he turns his back. That’s a good, hostile start from Mark Wood.
9.1 overs: Sri Lanka 23-2 (K Perera 19, Mathews 0) Mark Wood replaces Sam Curran. He played only one Test last summer, which was a little odd given his Tysonesque performances in South Africa the previous winter. There’s another delay after his first delivery, so the umpires call for drinks.
9th over: Sri Lanka 22-2 (K Perera 18, Mathews 0) The extreme humidity means this will be Broad’s last over, and Angelo Mathews knows it. He ignores everything outside off stump and defends the straight balls. That was a fine, intelligent opening spell from Broad: 5-2-14-2.
8th over: Sri Lanka 22-2 (K Perera 18, Mathews 0) Perera smears Curran back over his hand, a disgusting shot that plugs and gets him a couple of runs. He plays a better shot later in the over, timing two more through the covers.
According to world-leading statistician Nasser Hussain on Sky, the last top-order batsman to get four consecutive Test ducks was Mark Waugh in the Audi years.
7th over: Sri Lanka 16-2 (K Perera 12, Mathews 0) Angelo Mathews strolls to the crease. Incidentally, since he was dropped last summer, Stuart Broad has taken 31 wickets at an average of 13.00.
WICKET! Sri Lanka 16-2 (Mendis c Buttler b Broad 0)
The new batsman is Kusal Mendis, who made three consecutive ducks in South Africa recently. He’s better than that, but not today: he’s gone for another duck! Mendis felt nervously for a clever full-length cutter from Broad that moved just enough to shave the edge, and Buttler did the necessary.
WICKET! Sri Lanka 16-1 (Thirimanne c Bairstow b Broad 4)
Excellent cricket from England. Thirimanne flicks Broad round the corner, as he has all morning, and Bairstow takes a smart catch at leg gully. That’s a triumph for Joe Root, who didn’t waste any time before setting some funky fields.
6th over: Sri Lanka 15-0 (Thirimanne 4, K Perera 11) A second maiden from Sam Curran. This looks like very hard yakka for England’s seamers, so it might not be long before we see one of the spinners – presumably Dom Bess, as there are two left-handers at the crease.
“Good morning Rob,” says Finbar Anslow. “It snowed on Christmas day here in Piedmont and thereafter froze, so we’re still in a winter wonderland. What’s the temperature like in Galle?”
28 degrees, it says here.
5th over: Sri Lanka 15-0 (Thirimanne 4, K Perera 11) Perera drives Broad not far short of Curran at mid-off. He’s throwing his hands at anything pitched up outside off stump, and later in the over he times a lovely drive through extra cover for four. The next ball is dug in, tempting Perera into a loose pull that goes miles in the air towards Leach at long leg. But he loses sight of the ball and ends up running the wrong way. By the time he changes direction it’s too late and the ball plops a few yards in front of him.
“Last time England lost in Australia they vowed to nurture proper fast bowlers (Saqib, Stone etc., they can’t be said to have nurtured Archer) and high-class wrist spin (Crane or Parkinson),” says Digvijay Yadav. “They are playing medium pacers and finger spinners here. They will play the same in England. Does that mean they’ll drop the pacers and wrist spinners straight into the cauldron in November?”
Archer’s being rested, which is fair enough, though I agree he’s been poorly handled so far. I’d say the only bankers for the Gabba, if fit, are Stokes and Archer. The spinner is the biggest problem, I think.
4th over: Sri Lanka 9-0 (Thirimanne 4, K Perera 5) In a surprising development, there appears to be the square root of bugger all in the pitch for England’s seamers.
“Morning Rob,” says Brian Withington. “Great to see YDL on debut in Galle – looks like a seamer’s paradise from the air – but, as they say, appearances can be deceptive. Game on.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando, Cricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent, thinks the pitch will turn a fair bit in this game, and a helluva lot in the second.
There’s a bit of a delay because of a problem with the sightscreen. Let’s play Richard Osman’s House of Games, the Backwards Round: phrase favourite Lloyd’s David is what?
3rd over: Sri Lanka 7-0 (Thirimanne 2, K Perera 5) Thirimanne gets the first run of the day, rolling his wrists to work Broad round the corner for a single. Perera does likewise, and then Thirimanne does it a third time. Perera ends the over by dumping Broad straight back over his head for four. It’s the third over of a Test match, man.
We’ve just seen a replay off that Curran LBW appeal – it was hitting leg, a decent portion of it, but it was Umpire’s Call so the decision wouldn’t have been overturned had England reviewed.
“Good morning Rob,” says John Starbuck. “Can we expect a tirade from Jimmy Anderson at lunchtime?”
Ha. I think even Jimmy and Broad can accept being rotated in these conditions.
2nd over: Sri Lanka 0-0 (Thirimanne 0, K Perera 0) Sam Curran shares the new ball with Stuart Broad. He’s bowling to Kusal Perera, the man who made that astounding 153 not out in South Africa a couple of years ago. He has struggled a little since then, though he did make a pair of rumbustious sixties in South Africa over Christmas. He’s a dangerous player, especially in what might be a low-scoring game.
Curran almost gets rid of him quicksmart, but Perera survives a huge shout for LBW after pushing around his front pad at the fifth ball of the over. Joe Root decides against a review, thinking it was sliding past leg stump. It looked really close; I suspect it was umpire’s call.
1st over: Sri Lanka 0-0 (Thirimanne 0, K Perera 0) Stuart Broad bowls England’s first over of 2017, and it’s maiden. There’s a hint of a run-out chance second ball, when Thirimanne is sent back by Kusal Perera. It was the right decision – the throw thundered into the stumps, and though Thirimanne was back in time, Perera would have been in big trouble had he taken the single.
Here come the openers, Lahiru Thirimanne and Kusal Perera. Thirimanne has a desperate record against England – nine Tests, 167 runs at 11.13 – although it’s usually Jimmy Anderson who torments him.
The weather forecast for today isn’t great, with heavy showers expected later in the day. But it’s dry at the moment, so we’re going to start on time.
Dan Lawrence makes his England debut, as expected. Stuart Broad is preferred to Jimmy Anderson, and England have decided to go in with only two frontline spinners plus Joe Root and Lawrence. There are suggestions that Root will bat at No3, though I’ve put Bairstow there for now because I don’t trust the internet.
Sri Lanka Thirimanne, K Perera, Chandimal (c), Mendia, Mathews, Dickwell (wk), Shanaka, Hasaranga, D Perera, Embuldeniya, Fernando.
England Sibley, Crawley, Bairstow, Root (c), Lawrence, Buttler (wk), Curran, Bess, Broad, Leach, Wood.
Sri Lanka have won the toss and will bat first
That’s a good toss to win on a pitch that should turn more and more as the match progresses.
Early drama department The Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne is out of the match – and presumably the series – with a fractured thumb. It’s the latest, and most damaging, in a grotesque injury list. Dinesh Chandimal will take over.
Shouldn’t you be asleep? I’m glad you’re not; it’s nice to have the company. Now, pay attention. All being well, England will play 17 Tests this year. That’s not great news for Jimmy Anderson’s rectus femoris, or any of his other muscles, or any of the other fast bowlers’ muscles, but it is good news for locked-down sports fans. Even at 3.29am, Test cricket is a vaccine for the soul.
Yep, England are about to start their two-Test series in Sri Lanka, the one originally scheduled for last March, a more innocent time when we thought awkward elbow bumps might keep Covid at bay. Both games will be played at Galle, so for the next 10 days you should have only one Byrds song in your subconscious. Galle is the most spin-friendly pitch in world cricket, the scene of a many a low-scoring dogfight down the years, and local experts expect more of the same.
England won in Galle 18 months ago en route to a 3-0 series victory, a terrific result for which they deserved more credit. That was then and this is now. For a variety of reasons, many of the stars of that series – Ben Foakes, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Keaton Jennings, Adil Rashid – won’t be playing this time. Rory Burns and Jofra Archer are also missing.
But England have improved in the last 12 months, and Joe Root’s exciting young side are aiming for a fourth consecutive series win. The last England team to do that were Andrew Strauss’s world-beaters a decade ago.
There are so many variables that all results are possible, from 2-0 Sri Lanka to 2-0 England. I was going to say I can’t wait to find out the result, but that’s not really true. Test cricket is the sport with the lowest GI, one that gives us time to enjoy the subtle momentum shifts, consider the many subplots and occasionally shout OH FFS! a little too loudly at 4.24am when England lose their third wicket.
See, the mind is racing and they haven’t even bowled a ball. Test cricket is back. Life feels a peedie bit better already.
The match starts at 10am local time, 4.30am GMT.