By the end of the first day Sri Lanka had lost the wicket of Kaushal Silva for six to left-arm spinner Jack Leach to finish on 26-1 and face a testing day today against England spinners Leach, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid.
Sri Lanka trail England by 259 runs and need to put up a strong first innings total before the pitch deteriorates further and makes batting a much difficult proposition than it has been on day one.
The Sri Lankan spinners had done an excellent job to reduce England to 225-9 and should have finished off the innings quickly but for some poor thinking strategy on the part of the captain Suranga Lakmal that allowed them to forge a 60-run last wicket stand between Curran and last man James Anderson.
It was agonising to see Sri Lanka allowing Curran to take a single off the last few deliveries off an over and retain the strike shielding Anderson from the spinners. Where the Lankans missed the trick was by not bringing the field in during the last few balls of the over to prevent Curran from taking a single. This happened time and time and again and Curran cashed in on these luxuries offered to him by smashing six sixes in scoring a superb counter-attacking knock of 64 off 119 balls.
Curran brought up his third Test fifty in style by smashing Akila Dananjaya for a flat six over square leg. If Curran’s previous two Test match defining half centuries against India are anything to go by then England should emerge winners here. For each time he scored or took wickets England had won and the only Test he was dropped in the series they lost.
How much those runs will be costly to Sri Lanka will depend on how their batsmen perform today. Sri Lanka should take a leaf out of Jos Buttler’s half century and stay positive on this spiteful pitch that has turn, bounce, bite and dip if they are to get anywhere close to England’s total. It is imperative that Sri Lanka gain a big first innings lead and forge ahead instead of being behind England as they had been at Galle.
It was Buttler who kept England in the game with a superlative knock of 63 off 67 balls (7 fours) that largely comprised of sweeps and reverse sweeps against spin that worked for him well. He eventually got out playing the reverse sweep hitting a catch to backward point.
Opener Rory Burns’ solid innings of 43 off 81 balls was the only other noteworthy contribution to the England total.
Malinda Pushpakumara who has been given the big task of filling the shoes of legendary left-arm spinner Rangana Herath ended up with figures of 3 for 89 that included a marathon first spell of 22 overs during which period he picked up the crucial wickets of Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Buttler.
Root who won his seventh successive toss got out to a left-arm spinner for the third successive time in the series. He was dismissed twice by Herath at Galle.
Dilruwan Perera was once more the main strike bowler taking over the mantle as the leader of the spinners pack after Herath to finish with four wickets thus taking his tally in the series to 11.
The third spinner Akila Dananjaya showed that the reporting of his bowling action had no adverse effect in his confidence to take two wickets for 80.
He came in for some heavy punishment from Curran during the last wicket partnership and saw Pushpakumara put down a simple chance off him at long-on offered at 53.
The England first innings has followed in similar pattern as at Galle where they lost five wickets for 113 by lunch on the first day and recovered to score 342. Yesterday they were four down for 120 at lunch and ended up scoring 285 which on this pitch could prove to be significant one.