Sri Lanka vs England: Joe Root’s 124 one of his Test best, says Mike Atherton
Joe Root celebrates his second Test century in Asia. @AFP

Former England captain Mike Atherton has been moved to describe Joe Root’s 124 against Sri Lanka on day three of the second Test at Pallekele as one of the batsman’s best hundreds, coming on a day on which the visiting team surged to a lead of 278 on a turning surface.

When stumps were called on day four as bad light and drizzle set in, England were 323/9 – a situation that owed plenty to Root’s 15th Test hundred, which spanned just 146 balls. It was his second Test century in Asia.

“He is such a good player that all of his Test hundreds are attractive to watch but given of late that he has not been converting that many, given it is in Asia where he has only scored one other hundred on a very flat pitch in Rajkot, and given the situation of the game – without his hundred England would be struggling – it will make him feel that was one of his best,” Atherton said while commentating for Sky Sports.

Atherton credited Root’s aggressive approach, even he was one of seven England batsmen dismissed playing the sweep shot or reverse-sweep, for showing the way to counter Sri Lanka’s spinners.

“Root has championed England playing in a very aggressive manner. He has too eager to score, too frenetic at Galle but prefers to be that side of it rather than on the defensive side. He is saying to his team: ‘We are going to play this way’,” he said.

“England are in a great position – I think they would have snapped your hand off for that lead at the start of play. They ought to have enough and if their spinners can’t defend 278 on there you would be disappointed, even though the pitch isn’t a minefield.”

Should England win this match, Root will become the first English captain since Nasser Hussain in 2001 to win a Test series in Sri Lanka.