GALLE: A Keaton Jennings century helped England put Sri Lanka on the ropes in the first Test on Thursday, setting the hosts a daunting 462 to win at notoriously low-scoring Galle.
England declared at 322 for six on day three with Jennings 146 not out after a patient innings that saw him deal deftly with the home side’s spin attack.
At the close of play, Sri Lanka were 15 without loss with Dimuth Karunaratne on seven and Kaushal Silva on eight after hanging on for seven overs, with a further 447 to make at a ground where no team has successfully chased more than 99.
In the morning session a somewhat shaky Rory Burns, brought in to fill the huge shoes of the retired Alastair Cook, was run out for 23.
Moeen Ali, out first ball in the first innings, fared little better, driving straight to Rangana Herath at mid-on off Dilruwan Perera for three.
Herath, in his last game before retiring, then got England captain Joe Root out for the second time in the match, caught behind for three.
But Jennings played cautiously and looked comfortable against spin against Perera and the other spinners. An LBW appeal off Dhananjaya de Silva when Jennings was on 58 was turned down and Sri Lanka chose not to review.
Ben Stokes hit a brisk 62 off 93 balls that saw three sixes, including one back over Perera’s head and an almighty sweep high over midwicket off Dhananjaya de Silva to bring up the 300.
But shortly before tea he became Perera’s second scalp, a demon of a ball pitching outside leg and angling back to take the Durham all-rounder’s off stump.
Jos Buttler smashed a quick 35 before being caught off Herath while Foakes belted out 37 before falling to spinner Akila Dananjaya.
England made 342 in the first innings thanks to a century from Ben Foakes, filling in as wicketkeeper for the injured Jonny Bairstow.
Sri Lanka were then bowled out for 203, leaving them 139 behind, falling to a spin attack led by Ali who took four for 66.
Jennings’s performance will go some way to silencing his critics — many of whom were calling for him to be dropped after his poor home series against India this summer.
After stumps on Thursday the South Africa-born 26-year-old conceded that the past half year had been “tough for me personally”, but that he relishes the pressure.
“I enjoy it. I love the process of being involved, I love the process of feeling the heat, feeling the pressure, and I suppose waking up in the morning knowing you are on a knife edge,” he said.
“So it makes today that much more special,” he said.
“I have only watched Keaton Jennings live in two test matches and he has got a hundred in both I must be his lucky charm !!!,” former England great Allan Lamb said on Twitter.
“Well played fantastic and thoroughly deserved by the hard work.”