Herath’s farewell party faces serious threat

England vs Sri Lanka – 1st Test – Day 3

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Rangana Herath ended his career with 433 wickets - eighth overall in the list of highest wicket-takers

Off-field celebrations for Rangana Herath’s farewell have been arranged. Plenty of mementos, trophies and ceremonies have been designed. But, unlike Sri Lankan greats in the past, he is most likely to retire without a victory in the spin fortress of Sri Lanka.

Reporting from Galle

After taking two wickets in his final bowling spell, he walked off to a rousing reception from the entire ground. Herath ended his Test career with 433 wickets at 28.07 – eighth overall in the list of highest wicket-takers.

Below-par, Sri Lanka have dug a hole for themselves in Galle after three days of cricket. They are virtually out of this game, barring for a miracle, which can come in the form of rain or an out of the world batting performance.

Read: The perfect advertisement for Test match cricket

The first three days in Galle was luckily uninterrupted by rain as forecasted, with a full quota of overs being bowled. But, there’s always a chance of showers in the country during this monsoon season.

With 462 runs to win in the fourth innings, Sri Lanka must break plenty of records to give a perfect parting gift to their most respected, senior statesman in the team.  

England has never won a Test match in Galle in their last four attempts but, they are well on their way to set the record straight.

Except for the first session on day one, England has completely dominated the remainder of the eight sessions. Where did Sri Lanka go wrong? It was probably it’s their batting which has let them down once again. They have shown their inability to apply themselves and bat for at least 90 to 100 overs in the first innings, which is proving to be costly.

Keaton Jennings remained unbeaten with a fine 146* in 280 balls

Batting wise, England has already notched up two proper Test hundreds and batted for 190 overs across both innings, while Sri Lanka has only managed one half-century so far.

Left-handed Keaton Jennings, justified his selection after a horrific summer back home. Incidentally, both of his hundreds have come in the sub-continent, which suggest that he can play spin better than pace.

Some balls spun past the outside edge several times, and he survived a close LBW shout, which Sri Lanka reluctantly declined to review, perhaps as a result of their DRS mishaps on day one. Jennings showed that it’s still possible to bat long, with proper application, patience and concentration.

Read: Jennings marathon knock set Sri Lanka 462 to win

Tall and lanky, Jennings used the paddle sweep and reverse-sweep effectively. He looked in no hurry throughout his innings, which lasted more than six hours. Hitting many shots behind the wicket, some of the backfoot cuts and cover drives were also well executed.  

“I suppose I’m going to get slated at some point for playing a stupid reverse sweep. But I see it as a big strength of mine, I see it as a shot that, in a way, gets me out of jail.” Jennings said after play.

The manner in which Jennings played would give a glimmer of hope for the Lankan batsmen that they can still go on to make big hundreds on this surface.

Sri Lanka’s body language was sub-standard on day three. They needed to take quick wickets and bowl England out but they kept on waiting for things to happen. That’s not something new for Sri Lankan Cricket in recent times, as they have often themselves in a position of submission than dominance.

The absence of their regular skipper Dinesh Chandimal due to a groin injury was quite telling in the field. Suranga Lakmal has proved to be a match-winning captain with three wins in as many games.  England’s 139-run first innings lead was too much for the home team to make a comeback from.

The only silver lining for Sri Lanka on day three was the run-out of Rory Burns. It was good to see a Sri Lankan fielder shattering the stumps with a direct-hit, given all the remarks about poor fielding in the recent past.

Photos: Sri Lanka vs England | 1st Test – Day 3

With a gigantic task at hand, how can the Lankan batsmen stay focused? Spin bowling coach, Piyal Wijetunge believes that it is not impossible to bat on this particular Galle surface, which has not yet seen venomous turn and bounce still.

“When you look at the three days so far, I’m not sure there will be a huge change over the next two. We know that it does spin a little more on the last two days because it is dry here. There is a big challenge, but it’s not the kind of wicket we usually see in Galle. If the batsmen do their duty, the 440-odd that we need will be tough, but it’s not impossible.” He said.

More than the coaching staff, all the batsmen must believe in themselves, and apply that belief in the next two days to put up a fight.

They will be encouraged with the way England batted on day three and will look to take a leaf out of the Jennings’ innings. The onus though now is on the batsmen to put their hands up and stop the Englishmen from spoiling Herath’s farewell party.