LEEDS: Jonny Bairstow brought up his second Test century, and his first on his home ground at Headingley, as England continued their fightback on the second morning of the first Test against Sri Lanka. However, with Alex Hales falling short in his own quest for three figures, Sri Lanka battled back with three wickets in the second hour of the session, and will be armed with a brand-new ball when play resumes after lunch.
Continuing the theme that Hales and Bairstow had established on the first afternoon, the pair extended their sixth-wicket stand to 141 to banish the memories of England’s top-order wobble, when five wickets had tumbled for 34 runs. Bairstow was once again the aggressor, as befits a man in supreme form on his Yorkshire home ground – his last two innings at the venue have been 246 and 198.
Bairstow outscored his partner by three to one throughout their morning resumption, capitalising on too much width as both Sri Lanka openers, Shaminda Eranga and Nuwan Pradeep, offered opportunities to fillet the third-man boundary. He did enjoy one clear moment of good fortune however, on 70, when Pradeep failed to gather a sharp return catch to his right, as Bairstow scuffed a drive back down the track.
At the other end, Hales wound his neck in and banished all risk from his game as he set his sights on the remaining 29 runs he needed for his maiden Test century. It was a grind, as he routinely refused to chase anything outside his eyeline, except for one clear opportunity on 82, when Dimuth Karunaratne failed to cling onto a flying edge at slip off the bowling off Angelo Mathews.
It could have been the slice of luck that Hales needed. But four runs later, and faced with a change of tempo as Rangana Herath came into the attack, Hales’ patience snapped for good. In Herath’s second over, he skipped down the track and failed to reach the pitch of the ball with an ambitious wallop over the covers. A fast flat leading edge fizzed out to Dushmantha Chameera at deep extra cover, who pouched the offering with a well-judged dive.
Hales was visibly distraught, lingering at the crease for several seconds and looking as though he wanted to snap his errant bat in two. Though he belatedly acknowledged the crowd as he dragged himself from the field, he knew that he had thrown away a priceless opportunity to silence those who doubt his credentials as a Test match opener.
It could have set his summer up at the first opportunity. Instead, having added 15 runs to his overnight 71 in 52 deliveries, with a dropped catch thrown in the mix as well, he will know that the jury remains out. At least, for those of a superstitious bent, he had guaranteed his fate would be different to the last two England openers to make a maiden Test hundred at Headingley – both Sam Robson (2014) and Adam Lyth (2015) were out of the side by the end of the summer.
If Hales’ failing had been to linger too long, then a different criticism could be levelled at Moeen Ali. England’s No. 8 had admitted before the match that he had lost a bit of confidence in being slated to come in so low for his country, but the hasty manner in which he came and went didn’t exactly enhance his case for a promotion. He had failed to score from his first seven deliveries when he drove too firmly at his eighth, from Dushmantha Chameera, and lobbed a simple catch off the inside edge and pad, to Kusal Mendis under the helmet at short leg.
It was a timely reward for the slippery Chameera, bowling only his second over of the day. He had erred on the short side in his fruitless first day’s work, but was soon celebrating two wickets in the space of five deliveries when Stuart Broad drove flat-footedly at a hint of width outside off and spread-eagled his own stumps via an inside edge.
Bairstow simply stared down the track, rather nonplussed by the clatter of wickets in his midst. But he didn’t have to wait long to reframe the story of the session. From the first ball of Chameera’s next over, Bairstow drilled a drive into the covers, paused as a wild shy came in at the non-striker’s end, then galloped through with glee as the ball zipped through for overthrows to gift him his second century and his first on home soil. Coming at the ground where his late father, David, played for so many years, it was a moment that he may yet cherish even more than his emotional first century, at Cape Town five months ago.