Stuart Broad claimed England were in “dream world” after dominating the opening day of the first Test against Sri Lanka with bat and ball.
Things could barely have gone better in Galle, with the tourists rounding up their hosts for just 135 amid a flurry of loose strokes then finishing just a couple of well-timed shots from parity on 127 for two.
For a team who have struggled to shake off a reputation as slow starters in the red-ball format, it was a thoroughly commanding performance built around a handful of standout performances.
One belonged to Broad, who took set the tone with three for 20 on a pitch known as something of a seamer’s graveyard, while Dom Bess leveraged a healthy dose of good fortune to bank career-best figures of five for 30.
Joe Root (66 not out) and Jonny Bairstow (47no) then forged an unbroken stand of 110 to crank up the scoreboard pressure to a point that leaves England with all the cards.
“It was an absolute dream-world day for us, it’s a nine out of 10 day,” Broad told Sky Sports at the close.
“You don’t get days much better than these in the subcontinent. Bowling a team out cheaply and getting close to them two down is fantastic.”
Broad had been handed the responsibility of leading the attack after the country’s record wicket-taker James Anderson was left out and responded in style, taking out Lahiru Thirimanne and Kusal Mendis with the new ball and key man Angelo Mathews at the start of his second spell.
Bess eventually bested his efforts in the book but was happy to admit he needed some luck along the way. Kusal Perera and Wanindu Hasaranga both botched reverse sweeps, Niroshan Dickwella fed a long hop straight to Dom Sibley at point and Dasun Shanaka found himself caught behind after his sweep rebounded off Bairstow’s ankle at short leg.
Only Bess’ fourth wicket was one for his cut-and-keep collection, Dilruwan Perera deceived off the pitch and through the air, but he made no apologies for cashing in.
“I probably haven’t bowled as well as I could have, and I got away with one or two but that’s cricket,” he said.
“You’re going to bowl good balls that go out the park or get dropped, so take it when it comes for sure. It was a proud moment because I’ve taken five wickets for England and no-one can take it away from me.”
The bowlers’ work could have gone to waste had England’s top order folded in similar fashion – hardly unheard of in these parts of the world – but after Sibley and Zak Crawley fell cheaply, the response was impressive.
Root defended carefully off the back foot and swept with authority to make a 50th Test half-century, while Bairstow marked his first Test innings since December 2019 with a reassuringly solid approach at number three.
“Jack Leach and I certainly know how good they are against spin when we bowl at them in the nets and the way they went about it out there was quality,” said Bess.
“There’s a reason they are among the best in the world. They showed a very calm manner, it set the platform, now it’s about going into tomorrow to hopefully build a massive score.
“We still have some proper players to come, it’s about driving the game forward and putting ourselves in a good position.”
The view from the home dressing room was suitably incredulous, with batting coach Grant Flower, brother of former England coach Andy, offering a withering assessment of his charges.
“You ask me who should take the blame? Every single batter should take the blame,” he said.
“I’m at a loss for words, I’ve never seen us bat that badly. They know these conditions well and it should have been a big advantage.
“England’s batsmen showed us there’s nothing wrong with the pitch, we batted terribly.”
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