1st Test: Jennings and Stokes extend England’s lead beyond 350
Ben Stokes and Keaton Jennings run between the wickets. (AFP Image)

Keaton Jennings neared a second Test century and batted England to a lead of 351 runs against Sri Lanka on Day 3 of the first Test. At the tea interval, England progressed to 212 for the loss of four wickets, with 101 runs scored in the second session, that saw Sri Lanka remove Ben Stokes for their only success after the allrounder had completed his 15th Test fifty.

England upped the pace with Stokes and Jennings building on their partnership. The two put together 107 runs for the fourth wicket with Stokes taking spinner Akila Dhananjaya for two sixes and a four in two overs. He tried to hit the spinners out of the attack with lifted hits and attempted at derailing them with the occasional reverse sweep. There was a sense of urgency in Stokes’ batting, and having escaped a couple of close chances, he was cleaned up by a ripped from Dilruwan Perera – the ball pitching outside leg and spinning enough to clip Stokes’ off stump.

Sri Lanka, despite the wicket, failed to seize the initiative. Jos Buttler was on 11 when he stepped down to Perera but failed to connect properly. But as the ball went between bat and pad, and Buttler trying to hoick one over long-on, Niroshan Dickwella failed to grab the ball and affect what could have been a regular stumping chance. Buttler hammered a six down the ground to take England past 200. Jennings continued to play a measured knock, except the audacious reverse-sweeps he tried in the 80s and 90s.

Earlier, a disciplined piece of bowling from Sri Lanka saw them pick up three wickets for 73 runs in the opening session. The wickets to fall on in that session included that of Rory Burns, Moeen Ali and England captain Joe Root.

England, resuming the day at 38 for no loss, were in no hurry to score runs and were tied down by Dilruwan Perera and Suranga Lakmal. The fact that Sri Lanka’s bowling was tight can be gauged by the fact that the first boundary was scored when play entered the final 30 minutes of the session. England’s openers crossed 50 when Burns was run-out by a direct him and had to head back.

Moeen Ali and Joe Root endured low scores, and once Sri Lanka sent them both packing in a span of seven runs and five overs, it marked their small comeback in the match. Moeen miscued Dilruwan to Rangana Herath at mid-on. Herath then returned to remove Root who offered a thin edge to wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella.

A that stage, England were ahead by just over 200 runs and Sri Lanka had a chance to break through. But Jennings was firm at his end, and he banished the disappointment of a mediocre series against India by bringing up a half-century off 111 balls. He was joined by Stokes and the allrounder gave Jennings positive company. And while Stokes wasn’t fluent by all means, he absorbed 29 balls and looked somewhat assured compared to the other batsmen.

Brief scores: England 342 & 212/4 (Keaton Jennings 98*) lead Sri Lanka 203 (Angelo Mathews 52; Moeen Ali 4-66) by 351 runs.