Jack Leach fulfilled an ambition which was years in the making during England’s dominant second day against Sri Lanka, by linking up with childhood friend Jos Buttler on the biggest stage of all.
The tourists had plenty of reasons to celebrate as they grabbed control of the first Test – from Ben Foakes adding two catches and a stumping to his memorable debut century to Moeen Ali’s four-wicket haul at Sri Lanka’s favourite spinning venue of Galle.
Throw in wickets for four other bowlers, 12 drama-free overs to start England’s second innings and a 177-run lead and there was much for the travelling fans to be satisfied about.
But for Leach it was a personal moment that drew the biggest release of emotion, Buttler hanging on at cover when Dilruwan Perera went after the slow left-armer – reprising a partnership first seen at Somerset Under-11s.
“I was just running at him shouting ‘caught Buttler, bowled Leach!’. Those were my exact words,” he said.
“That was a nice moment for me and I hope for him, as well. To be out there with him is something very special for me.
“It’s brilliant. We started at under-11s together. That would have been the first ever ‘caught Buttler, bowled Leach’.
“To be in an England shirt together is very special. It makes us proud and a lot of people back home proud as well.”
Leach started the day hoping to have the best seat in the house for Foakes’ hundred, walking to the middle with England 321-8 and with the Surrey wicketkeeper 13 runs short of his landmark.
When Leach nicked to slip, Foakes still needed five more.
We started at under-11s together. That would have been the first ever ‘caught Buttler, bowled Leach’. To be in an England shirt together is very special.Jack Leach
“I was gutted when I got out, I was desperate to get him over the line,” said Leach.
“I couldn’t do it but Jimmy Anderson did it so that’s fine. I was jumping up and down in the changing room when he got there.”
Reflecting on the moment he became the 20th England player to hit a hundred on debut, and only the second gloveman after Matt Prior, Foakes added: “When I hit that ball it was a relief to say the least.
“It’s a weird feeling, just so much relief.
“Joy and whatnot too, but just relief at finally doing something you set out to do as a kid. It was incredible.
“England have got so many good keepers I never thought I’d get a game to be honest... the last couple of years I probably didn’t think this would come.”
England set about building an unimpeachable lead when day three gets under way this morning, with Sri Lanka already facing an awkward fourth innings on a pitch prone to drastic deterioration.
Keaton Jennings and Rory Burns built a platform of 38-0, their task having been made easier by the efforts of the bowling unit, who hustled the hosts out for 203 in just 68 overs.
Sri Lanka are used to bundling visiting teams out with spin in Galle but here they were the prey, losing eight wickets to the turning ball.
Ali led the way with 4-66 while Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid and Jack Leach took two apiece.
With Anderson and Sam Curran removing one opener each with the fleeting swing offered by the new ball, things were going close to plan in the field.
The Sri Lanka innings was topped and tailed with a cluster of wickets, 42-4 in 19 overs before lunch and 67-5 in the 19 overs after tea.
What happened in the afternoon session was a cool-headed aberration as both Dinesh Chandimal (33) and Angelo Mathews (52) knuckled down. Only Foakes’ stumping of the former prevented England going wicketless for two hours.
Either side they batted raggedly. Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva both failed to see the shine off the ball, after which it was spin all the way.
Leach’s nagging discipline earned him the scalps of Kusal Mendis and Perera, while Rashid was used more sparingly on his way to 2-30.
Moeen reaped the biggest rewards, though, bowling Dhananjaya de Silva on the sweep and getting the key scalp of Mathews with the first ball after tea.
By now in a groove, he tempted Niroshan Dickwella and Akila Dananjaya to give up catches in successive overs.
“It pretty much went to plan for us,” admitted Leach.
“We talked at the start of the day about trying to get as many runs as we could and when we went out to bowl just putting as much pressure on as possible.
“We felt we had a good total on the board and what Joe (Root, captain) asked of us, we pretty much did it.”