Sri Lanka v England: Joe Root makes 168 not out as tourists build big lead

By Callum MatthewsBBC Sport
England captain Joe Root plays a sweep shot against Sri Lanka
Joe Root's most recent Test century was 226 against New Zealand in Hamilton in 2019
First Test, Galle (day two)
Sri Lanka 135: Bess 5-30, Broad 3-20
England 320-4: Root 168*, Lawrence 73; Embuldeniya 3-121
England lead by 185 runs
Scorecard

Captain Joe Root scored an unbeaten 168 as England built a substantial lead over Sri Lanka on the second day of the first Test in Galle.

Debutant Dan Lawrence made 73, adding 173 with Root to help the tourists close on 320-4, a lead of 185.

Although rain allowed only 53 overs in the day - the start was delayed by 70 minutes and no play was possible after tea - Root and Lawrence batted England into a position of total dominance.

Root played beautifully for his 18th Test century, his first since November 2019.

He will resume on Saturday alongside Jos Buttler, who is unbeaten on seven, and will be aiming to declare and bat only once on a pitch that is already breaking up and offering increasing turn and bounce.

Play will start 15 minutes earlier at 04:15 GMT on Saturday.

England said they were "not concerned" after reports that two members of staff at their hotel tested positive for Covid-19.external-link

Root said: "All of the lads feel very safe at the moment and hopefully that continues throughout the tour."

England's limited-overs tour of South Africa was abandoned in December after a number of positive tests.

Root lives up to his words

Root is often compared to India's Virat Kohli, Australia's Steve Smith and New Zealand's Kane Williamson as England's lynchpin, but he can fail to capitalise on starts.

Having reached 50 four times since his previous century, he said before this series that he needed to be "selfish" and turn starts into "big match-winning contributions", and that "something big is around the corner".

He was proved right on Friday

He overturned an lbw decision on 20 on day one, and survived an lbw review, when he was outside the line, off the second ball of day two, but he batted solidly, offering no catching chances to the fielders.

Root, unbeaten on 66 overnight, has a natural ability to rotate the strike that makes him a dangerous Test player, and he combined well with Lawrence, who found the boundary with more ease.

The sweep has always been one of Root's strengths, and he played it superbly throughout his 254-ball innings, as he surpassed Kevin Pietersen's 151 in Colombo in 2012 as the highest score by an England player in Sri Lanka.

"I did a lot of talking ahead of this game so it's really pleasing to follow that through," said Root.

"It is something I have always been desperate to do - convert fifties into big hundreds. Tomorrow I will be trying to make that another really big one."

At the start of a busy year that includes nine Tests home and away against India, potentially two against world number one side New Zealand and a bid to regain the Ashes in Australia, this has so far been the perfect start for Root and England.

A graph showing Virat Kohli's Steve Smith, Kane Williamson's and Joe Root's Test half-centuries and centuries

New boy Lawrence seizes opportunity

Lawrence has had to wait for an opportunity since impressing on the England Lions tour of Australia early last year, with England winning their past three Test series and having a settled batting line-up.

The Essex batsman arrived at the crease nine balls into the day after Jonny Bairstow, who failed to add to his overnight 47 when England resumed on 127-2, was caught at second slip off slow left-armer Lasith Embuldeniya.

Lawrence averages 63.5 against spin in first-class cricket and his confidence against it was evident immediately as took a single off his first ball before driving his second to the cover boundary.

The 23-year-old continued to look strong on the off side, hitting behind square numerous times, and as his innings grew he looked more at ease all around the wicket, striking the game's only six over mid-wicket.

He was dropped twice - on 60 when Kusal Mendis at second slip failed to hold on to a leading edge off Wanindu Hasaranga, and on 68 when he charged Embuldeniya and an edge was put down by wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella.

Lawrence eventually fell when Dilruwan Perera found sharp turn and bounce from round the wicket to have him taken at short leg via the glove.

'Lawrence looked like he belonged' - reaction

England captain Joe Root: "This is as good as it gets having lost the toss - to be in this position is fantastic.

"It's really important that we make the most of this opportunity and get really ruthless tomorrow morning.

"Dan obviously has got huge amounts of ability. I'm not comparing him to Kevin Pietersen, but he's got that ability of being able to do things that other players can't and play certain shots that other people can't. It's really exciting to watch.

"He showed exactly why he deserves the opportunity to play. Hopefully it is the start of something very special for him."

Former England captain Michael Vaughan on BBC Test Match Special: "Dan Lawrence looks confident in his game.

"There will be bigger hurdles but the first challenge in Test cricket is looking like you belong there, and can play at that level, to be able to mix it with the likes of Joe Root.

"From what we saw he looked like he belonged out there."

Former Sri Lanka all-rounder Russel Arnold: "It's going to be hard for Sri Lanka - it's going to come down to approach, application and mentality and the batsman of late haven't shown that.

"The lead is going to grow to at least 300, and it's going to be really tough for Sri Lanka to take it to the fourth and fifth day."

Sri Lanka bowling coach David Saker: "Joe Root is a seasoned player and has a really good game plan.

"He is always putting pressure on the bowler and our guys haven't been good enough to combat him."

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