Jimmy Anderson was a class apart on his return to the England side but a century from old adversary Angelo Mathews made it a fair fight on day one of the second Test against Sri Lanka.
Anderson put his ego and record-breaking status aside to sit out the series opener but, having traded places with Stuart Broad in Galle, was quick to restate his enduring class as he got the better of the home side’s top order on a batsman’s pitch.
The 38-year-old finished with exemplary figures of three for 24 on a surface offering precious little encouragement, but Sri Lanka will be more than happy with a score of 229 for four.
Mathews provided the necessary steel, coming to the crease with the scoreboard at seven for two and reaching stumps on 107 not out. It was his 11th Test hundred, the first two of which came at Lord’s and Headingley during a memorable tour in 2014.
With spinners Dom Bess and Jack Leach struggling to make any impression despite sharing 40 overs, England were also thankful for Mark Wood’s show of heart. He bowled reliably fast in stifling heat and claimed the wicket of Dinesh Chandimal deep in a back-breaking eight-over spell with a ragged old ball.
Despite winning the toss, Sri Lanka soon found themselves facing a bad case of deja-vu. Having vowed to improve on their 135 all out in last week’s first innings they were quickly teetering staring at a repeat.
Kusal Perera, fresh from a desperately tight lbw shout from Sam Curran’s second ball, was first to fall. The flighty opener decided he would not allow Anderson to work his way into rhythm, but his irresponsible hack in the vague direction of long-on succeeded only in a chunky edge and high slip catch for Joe Root.
Oshada Fernando was a fresh face at number three, recalled following Kusal Mendis’ run of four ducks in five innings, but the result was painfully familiar. The new man lasted just four balls before steering a rising delivery from Anderson back into his stumps for yet another nought in that key position. By the time he had wrapped up his clinical five-over burst, Anderson had allowed only three runs and gifted his team an unexpected shot of momentum.
Anderson admitted he was more nervous than usual on his return to action but was pleased with his efforts. “On the whole I was happy,” he told Sky Sports. “The last four [overs] has drained me a bit but generally I was happy with the way I bowled today, I thought we all stuck to our task really well.
“I’ve worked really hard, as all the lads have, there were a lot of nerves this morning, more than normal because haven’t played for a while. Luckily I slotted straight back in. It was handy that it started reversing a bit after lunch so it was nice to get the breakthrough then.”
Anderson expects the wicket to deteriorate but believes England are still in the game. “It is more of a traditional pitch where it seems like it’s good to bat on at the minute and it will probably deteriorate as the game goes on,” he said. “We really had to work hard and I thought we did well to keep them down to 230. If we come back tomorrow and put in the same amount of effort, hopefully we can roll them over. Hopefully if we get a bit more spin, a bit more wear in the wicket – we’ve still got a reasonably new ball for the seamers – we’re in the game.”
Anderson had praise for his pace bowler Wood, describing his bowling as an “amazing effort”. “He was saying he was tired after about three overs so to get through eight was an amazing effort,” he said. “I thought he really deserved the wicket.”
But Lahiru Thirimanne and Mathews calmed the situation, with a lengthy reminder that a surface like this required nothing more than cool heads and straight bats. The pair, fresh from scores of 111 and 71 in their previous innings, added 69 to the score before lunch as Leach and Bess struggled to create any kind of mischief.
The start of the afternoon session meant another Anderson spell and he required just two balls to usher Thirimanne to the pavilion for 43, finding a good area and a flicker of movement towards the cordon as the left-hander nicked behind. The strangle continued with the veteran’s economy rate comfortably below one until Mathews finally worked him away for a pair of boundaries in his 10th over. Both were examples of the veteran’s ability to find the runs on offer, breaking out of his watchful method only when there was enough width to draw him out or an error in length.
Chandimal was slightly busier as he joined Mathews and even launched Bess for a big six as he explored the aerial route. With England’s slow bowlers still quiet, it fell to Mark Wood to force the issue. He answered the call for pace and worked up a head of steam in the afternoon, hitting Chandimal twice on the glove and once flush in the grille with an awkward bouncer. Sri Lanka absorbed the threat and reached tea on 155 for three.
They continued their good work as the evening’s play began, blotting out Anderson for the first time as he tried his luck from both ends, and continuing their accumulation against the spinners. And so Root summoned Wood again. This time he pushed himself to the limit, running down his reserves across an unusually long spell of reverse-swing with the ageing Kookaburra. The exertion was etched across his face but the key difference this time was the end result, a richly deserved lbw decision against Chandimal earning him his first wicket of the series.
Mathews did not allow his concentration to dip and was eased towards three figures as Leach offered a handful of low-risk singles. Seven overs with the new ball brought no change, as Niroshan Dickwella and Mathews played for stumps from a position of strength.