England v Sri Lanka: Three talking points from day four
England v Sri Lanka: Three talking points as Gary Ballance helps the hosts finish on 267-8 in their second innings, 389 ahead
For the first three days of this Test match, both sides were able to successfully build large first innings totals. For England, other than during a shaky period on day one, Joe Root and Matt Prior were able to play fluently and freely on a relatively flat wicket offering little for the Sri Lankan bowlers. In the tourists’s reply, Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews also looked comfortable and in control on the Lords’ wicket, again with little to cause give much cause for concern. Yet in England’s second innings conditions appeared to change fairly drastically as early wickets tumbled. Shaminda Eranga had the ball moving off the wicket which helped to dismiss Ian Bell while the ball also began to bounce unpredictably with greater regularity high and low. For Rangana Herath the developing rough patches began to offer greater purchase which saw Moeen Ali bowled.
With Herath getting joy from the rough patches the importance of Moeen Ali and Root’s spin could be crucial if England are to force a result on Monday. These scenarios are where Graeme Swann’s retirement will be bemoaned the most with the great spinner also a handful on any day-five wicket. Root though has had success at Lords’ with the ball, last summer he dismissed both Usman Khawaja and Michael Clarke in the fourth innings. England will hope he can call on this previous experience and provide an attacking spin option alongside Ali and press for victory.
England were toiling in their second innings and risked leaving Sri Lanka an achievable target for victory. However, as others around him lost their heads, Gary Ballance dug deep, playing his way through difficult spells against the impressive Rangana Herath and Shaminda Eranga, and coming out on top to score his maiden Test match century. Ballance utilised the cut shot well throughout and was watchful on the drive having fell to it rashly in the first innings. Not only was this innings important for Ballance himself but just as much for his team, allowing them to take control on the match and give Alastair Cook the option of declaring when he sees fit.