Men against boys as England get their summer off to a flying start

IT is difficult enough for Yorkshire to sell tickets for a Test match at Headingley in May.

Jonny Bairstow leaves the field after England's win in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley (Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire).
Jonny Bairstow leaves the field after England's win in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley (Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire).

It is even more difficult when the opposition are as feeble as Sri Lanka, who subsided in less than three days to lose by an innings and 88 runs.

Under the circumstances, Yorkshire did well to attract an aggregate of 36,648 spectators.

A crowd of 14,039 saw the coup de grace on Saturday, delivered despite the loss of 27 overs to rain and 82.4 overs to weather in the match overall.

In archetypal English conditions, with the ball swinging and seaming and the pitch lively, a Sri Lanka side in transition were no match for a blossoming England team.

Having been made to follow-on on the second day, after being dismissed for 91 in reply to 298, the tourists plunged from 1-0 overnight to 119 all-out, the match finishing in the second over after tea.

Sri Lanka lost their last six wickets for 26 runs after their last six wickets fell for 14 runs in the first innings.

If that represented a statistical improvement, it did not feel like it.

England’s man-of-the-match was Jonny Bairstow, who became the first Englishman to score a hundred and claim nine dismissals in a Test.

If Carlsberg did Test matches, they would no doubt do the sort of Test matches that Bairstow enjoyed; his 140 was his second Test century, while his wicketkeeping – apart from one missed chance on Saturday – was exemplary.

Bairstow and Alex Hales, who scored 86, made more runs (226) than Sri Lanka’s two innings combined (210).

James Anderson then followed his five-wicket haul in the first innings with 5-29 in the second, finishing with match figures of 10-45 that emphasised the chasm in class between the teams.

Heading into day three, which fulfilled prophecies of menacing skies and murky clouds, the only question to be determined was whether England would win later that day or be made to wait by the weather.

During a rain delay of almost three hours after Sri Lanka took an early lunch on 77-2, it seemed likely that the match would tip over into Sunday, particularly with England having squandered the chance to leave Sri Lanka four down before lunch.

After play began 15 minutes late due to rain, England had struck with the 11th ball of the morning when Anderson had Dimuth Karunaratne caught behind by Bairstow off a rising delivery.

A super diving catch by Bairstow off the same bowler accounted for Kaushal Silva, but Bairstow dropped Kusal Mendis on 29 off Steven Finn, diving one-handed to the right, and James Vince grassed a sitter at third slip off Stuart Broad when Mendis was 47.

No matter.

When play resumed at 3.30pm, Dinesh Chandimal chopped the fourth ball into his stumps off Moeen Ali, which represented Ali’s sole contribution to the Test match.

Mendis – dashing and diminutive – progressed to a maiden Test half-century brimming with luck but also some spectacular strokes, but the wheels came off with the departure of captain Angelo Mathews, whom Broad lured into an edge behind as Sri Lanka slipped to 93-4.

Mendis went at the same total when, in trying to withdraw his bat to Anderson, he played-on after scoring 53 from 68 balls with eight fours.

Anderson, his tail up so high that you could practically see it rising above the Rugby Stand end from which he was bowling, drew a nervous prod from debutant Dasun Shanaka that gave Bairstow his ninth catch.

Rangana Herath, one delivery after being struck a painful blow on the elbow by the hitherto erratic Steven Finn, drove the same bowler meekly to cover as Sri Lanka took tea at 116-7.

Another catch for Bairstow would have seen him become only the second wicketkeeper after AB de Villiers to score a hundred and take 10 catches in a Test, the South African performing the feat against Pakistan at Johannesburg in 2013, but the Yorkshireman had to content himself with the best seat in the house as England completed the job in double-quick time.

Finn got rid of Dushmantha Chameera with the second ball after the break, which the batsman turned to Nick Compton at short-leg, and Lahiru Thirimanne edged the same bowler to Joe Root at second slip.

Fittingly, Anderson finished it off, Nuwan Pradeep backing away towards square-leg as the ball cannoned into his middle stump.

It was the sort of hapless shot that tail-enders used to play many moons ago; nowadays, it is rarely seen, but it summed up the men-against-boys nature of the contest.

England, however, were clinical and convincing, and the old adage applied that you can only beat the opposition in front of you.