Sri Lanka fought back on Day 2 in Pallekele as Roshen Silva’s 85 helped the hosts beyond England’s first innings total. Patrick Noone analyses how he went about his knock.
Roshen Silva has enjoyed a fine start to his Test career. A duck in his first innings against India in December was followed up by four consecutive 50+ scores, including his maiden century against Bangladesh in Chittagong. After then struggling in the West Indies and at home to South Africa, Silva lost his place in the side for the first Test of this series in Galle. However, his performance on his return to the side, in place of Sri Lanka’s injured skipper Dinesh Chandimal, suggested that he is a talent worth investing in.
There were fears that Sri Lanka, so comprehensively beaten in Galle, would struggle even more in Pallekele. Shorn of the retired Rangana Herath and the injured Chandimal, not just the captain but one of the best batsmen in the team, how could the hosts compete? The answer of course was that they needed others to step up. Malinda Pushpakumara did so on Day 1 with the ball, while on Day 2, it was Roshen Silva’s turn to do so with the bat. The two replacements have taken their opportunities and between them, helped Sri Lanka to a more than competitive position at the halfway stage of the match.
It was not all plain-sailing for Silva today, coming to the crease just after lunch and with his side in a spot of bother on 146-5. In that first hour after the interval, England’s spinners were finding more than 7° of turn on average, more than at any other time of the day. It was in the midsts of Adil Rashid’s second spell – by far his most potent – when nearly every ball looked like taking a wicket, ball after ball gripping and turning past the outside edge of the right-handers’ bat. By the time Rashid’s spell came to an end, Silva had faced 52 balls; seven of them were edged, nine of them were missed. A ripping googly that struck him on the pad was adjudged not out with his front foot marginally outside the line of off-stump.
But he survived.
Somehow, Silva kept his head and allowed neither the state of the pitch nor the quality of the bowling to put him off his game. He did not let the numerous times the ball spun past his bat to affect his judgement of the next ball; every delivery was played on its merits.
The pitch quietened down, relatively speaking, with England finding 5.7° of turn in the final session. Once he had settled into his innings, Silva was calm and judicious about which balls to attack and which to defend. Four of the five boundaries he struck were pitched within 40cm of each other and all were on a line on or just outside his off-stump.
Silva would finish with a false shot percentage of 22%, higher than every other player to face 50 balls or more in the match so far. Yet, as things stand, he has the highest score of the match and his innings was the primary reason Sri Lanka were able to claim a first innings lead that looked improbable when he came to the crease.
This series is developing a theme of players grabbing chances given to them in fortuitous circumstances. From Jonny Bairstow’s injury sustained while playing football allowing Ben Foakes to come in and make a debut century, to Alastair Cook’s retirement keeping the door open for Keaton Jennings to stake another claim to be England’s long-term opener with a hundred of his own. Now, Chandimal’s injury in Galle has provided a third example, with Silva now surely undroppable even if the captain returns for the third Test in Colombo.
Though Silva ultimately holed out off Rashid in search of quick runs while batting with the tail, it was a battle the batsman could consider won. It required guts, skill and mental fortitude to negotiate the early part of Silva’s innings; all qualities that Sri Lanka have been accused of lacking in recent years. If this innings is anything to go by, they certainly have at least one player exempt from such accusations.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.