Sri Lanka v England: Tourists close in on series win before rain ends day four early

England appeal for lbw against Sri Lanka batsman Angelo Mathews on day four of the second Test
Moeen Ali dismissed Angelo Mathews late on to shift a dramatic second Test back England's way
Second Test, Pallekele (day four)
England 290 & 346: Root 124, Foakes 65*, Burns 59, Akila 6-115
Sri Lanka 336 & 226-7: Mathews 88, Karunaratne 57, Leach 4-73
Sri Lanka target: 301
Scorecard

England put themselves on the brink of victory in the second Test and the series against Sri Lanka before rain brought an early end to day four.

Set 301 to win in Pallekele, the hosts recovered from 26-3 to reach 221-5 thanks to Angelo Mathews.

But the tourists struck twice in quick succession after tea to remove Mathews for 88 and Dilruwan Perera for two, leaving Sri Lanka 226-7 and needing a further 75 for victory.

England lead the three-Test series 1-0.

Sri Lanka fought back admirably after Jack Leach took three early wickets as England's spinners struggled to apply consistent pressure.

But Moeen Ali's lbw dismissal of Mathews should mean England wrap up victory on Sunday to claim their first series win in Sri Lanka since 2001 and their first away from home under captain Joe Root, although Niroshan Dickwella remains a threat on 27 not out.

Since World War One only four teams have scored 65 or more runs with three wickets left to win a Test.

No further play was possible once heavy rain set in shortly after 10:00 GMT. The final day will start 15 minutes earlier than scheduled at 04:15.

Mature Mathews falls short of century

Arriving at the crease with Sri Lanka in the mire, Mathews played an innings of remarkable application and maturity, not least when you consider his recent torrid spell in international cricket and tumultuous relationship with the Sri Lankan board.

He stepped down as captain in all three formats after defeat by Zimbabwe in a one-day series last year, returned as skipper in January, and was sacked in September.

A day later, he was dropped from the ODI squad to face England, with selectors critical of his fitness and running between the wickets.

Here he patiently worked the ball into gaps, accumulating calmly as he hit only three fours in reaching his third half-century of the series off 75 balls.

He added 77 with Dimuth Karunaratne (57) and 73 with Roshen Silva (27) before playing more expansively once joined by the attacking Dickwella to put England under serious pressure.

But, just as in both innings in the first Test at Galle, the tea interval proved to be Mathews' undoing. He missed a ball that Moeen got to straighten from around the wicket, with the lbw decision confirmed on review.

Mixed bag from England's spinners

Despite England's four spinners taking nine wickets between them in Sri Lanka's first innings - the other coming from a Ben Stokes run-out - there were signs for concern in their lack of consistency.

Those worries persisted throughout day four as each of them could only pepper threatening spells among plenty of ineffective ones.

After Ben Foakes finished 65 not out to help England post 346 in the morning, Leach was on the mark, drawing Kaushal Silva down the pitch by giving the ball more flight before it dipped and spun past the edge for Foakes to whip the bails off.

The slow left-armer got his second when Keaton Jennings took a stunning low catch at short leg to remove Dhananjaya de Silva, before England correctly called for a review for lbw against Kusal Mendis, who has now been dismissed by Leach in all four innings in the series.

Moeen could not offer his usual control, but took the key wickets of Mathews and Roshen, who was caught at slip by Root after inside edging on to his pad.

Root added five overs of unremarkable off-spin, while leg-spinner Adil Rashid embodied the mercurial nature of England's spin attack. He fizzed deliveries past the outside edge and bamboozled batsmen with his googly, but then dragged plenty short and gifted Sri Lanka easy boundaries.

It is likely to be enough to win this Test, but England's spin attack may struggle against better batting line-ups.

Sublime catches boost England

England's Ben Stokes (left), Ben Foakes (centre) and Keaton Jennings (right) celebrate after Jennings and Foakes combined to catch Dimuth Karunaratne in the second Test against Sri Lanka
Keaton Jennings (right) parried Dimuth Karunaratne's sweep shot for Ben Foakes (centre) to catch

When England's bowling has been lacklustre their fielding has bailed them out, with Jennings involved in two superb catches on day four.

First, Dhananjaya tried to work Leach into the leg side and, despite Jennings moving to his right as the ball deflected the opposite way off the face of the bat, he kept low enough to instinctively grab it with his left hand.

Karunaratne then swept Rashid round the corner, but Jennings showed tremendous anticipation to start moving to his left before the opener was through with the shot.

Even then the ball was travelling wide of the fielder, preventing him from wrapping his left hand around it - but he had the presence of mind to flick it upwards, allowing Foakes to complete the catch.

A touch of fortune perhaps, but also tremendous guile under the helmet from Jennings and, just as with Stokes' fine run-out and one-handed catch in the first innings, two key interventions from England's fielders have boosted their chances of victory.

'Don't discount Dickwella' - analysis

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew in Pallekele: "What a game we have set up now - 75 runs for Sri Lanka and you can't discount that Niroshan Dickwella is such a dangerous player.

"He's going to have the tail around him, so he's going to have the licence to play some shots. I'll be interested to see how they play it."

Former England captain Michael Vaughan on The Cricket Social: "I'd be disappointed if we went down to Colombo for the third Test and it was an absolute road.

"I like these 300-par-score pitches. It tells us all that Test cricket is alive and kicking if there's a contest between bat and ball."

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