Ben Foakes is chatting to the chaps on Sky
“It’s been a whirlwind day. I had a lot of emotions going on this morning, so to get out there was fantastic. My nerves weren’t too bad – I was better than I thought I would be – and I want to just grind and make it hard for them to get me out.
“The state of the game meant I had to nudge and nurdle, which is my game, and as the pitch goes dryer it was easier to score runs. I try to be pretty simple – I haven’t got the array of shots of these guys so I just try to use my feet and play a simple game.
“I’ve been to Sri Lanka three times with the Lions and played club cricket here, so you get a real sense of how conditions are, the heat and all that sort of stuff. That really helped. It also helped to be in the Ashes squad last winter – that was pretty cool and it enabled me to get to know the guys. It makes it easy when you come back in.
“I think it’s a good day for us. This morning the pitch was a bit wet and it looked really tough for batting. I think there will be different stages of the game, and batting on that in the fourth innings could be really tough. If we get a bit of sun I think the pitch will dry out and spin a lot.
“I don’t think we overdid it in the morning session. We put them under pressure, and if we sat in when it was spinning that much we could have been 30 for four rather than 100 for five.
“To be honest, when I got the call up I didn’t expect to play, not at all. I’d had a nice month getting my head away from cricket, and when Rooty came to me yesterday I was pretty surprised.
“I think I’ll sleep all right tonight. I think I’ll pass out straight away! I’ll sleep better than I did last night.
Meet the new England, same as the etc. They lost five wickets before lunch, when they played with reckless abandon, before the proper batsmen down the order knuckled down. England, who were 103 for five, reached a solid 321 for eight on a pitch that should deteriorate.
Sam Curran and Adil Rashid, who hit five sixes between them, played very nicely. But the undoubted star was the debutant Ben Foakes, who played an Alastair Cook tribute innings of 87 not out from 184 balls. His judgement and shot selection were almost flawless, and he has given the England selectors another headache to go with the ones they were already nursing. When do nice headaches become nasty?
Close of play
91st over: England 321-8 (Foakes 87, Leach 14) It’s hard to know whether Leach should play like a nightwatchman or with Foakes’s possible century in mind. He scampers back for a second after edging Dhananjaya, which suggests the former. Then he cuts a poor ball through the covers for three, which suggests the latter. At least it would have been three, had Lakmal not decided to pick the ball up even though both feet were behind the ropes. Four runs. “I don’t think you can do that…” says Bumble on Sky.
The last ball of the day is edged by Leach and goes straight through first slip for four more! He didn’t lay a hand on it. That means Leach will resume tomorrow morning. So, more importantly, will the superb Ben Foakes.
90th over: England 311-8 (Foakes 87, Leach 4) Perera is hunting his usual Galle five-for, and I have no idea how he didn’t get it in that over. Leach was beaten by three consecutive deliveries and then edged the next two. The first fell short of slip and the second brushed the fingers of the man at second slip as he plunged to his right. Technically that’s a dropped catch but even Garry Sobers would have struggled to take it.
The 90 overs have been bowled but because the over-rate has been so good, we’ll have time for an extra over.
“Hi Rob,” says Ben Powell. “In the 76th over you asked which England player would be James Blunt. I note the crashing silence on this attempted riff for the last 10 overs and can only assume that, mercifully, no one is James Blunt.”
If you’d said Geraint Jones…
89th over: England 308-8 (Foakes 87, Leach 1) Foakes is happy to take a single off Herath’s first ball. Leach can hang around – he helped Jonny Bairstow to a century on his Test debut – but he’s still a tailender so there is risk in that approach. Leach survives a big LBW appeal from Herath, having been well outside the line, and then drives a single off the fourth delivery. We should only have time for two more overs, so I think Foakes is happy to sleep on it.
88th over: England 306-8 (Foakes 86, Leach 0) It’s the eyes. It’s the eyes that make Ben Foakes resemble Alastair Cook when he’s under a helmet. That and the fact he bats like it’s 1982. No, that was a compliment. But he might have to bat like it’s 2018 if he wants to get a century, because Sri Lanka are now into the tail.
WICKET! England 306-8 (Rashid c Dhananjaya b Perera 35)
Rashid’s frisky romp ends when he edges a drive to slip. That’s a fourth wicket for Perera, who has lived up to expectations as Sri Lanka’s dangerman. It was a cracking cameo from Rashid: 35 from 38 balls with four fours and two sixes.
87th over: England 305-7 (Foakes 85, Rashid 35) Rashid drives Herath mighily over extra cover for four to bring up a rapid fifty partnership from 55 balls. We might look back on this as an important day in England’s move towards (for want of a better phrase) bits-and-pieces Test cricketers. Not for the first time this year, more than half the runs have been scored by Nos 7-9.
86th over: England 300-7 (Foakes 84, Rashid 31) A nasty delivery from Perera is gloved wide of short leg by Rashid. Every now and then a ball has really exploded from the pitch. On Sky, David Lloyd and Brad Hogg make the point that England may want to open with a spinner, either Moeen or Leach, to make the most of the extra bounce. That’s an excellent shout.
Foakes pushes a single down the ground to take England to 300. It feels like a par score for the conditions today but better than par for the match, if that makes sense. It doesn’t? Even better.
85th over: England 296-7 (Foakes 82, Rashid 29) Herath, who has switched ends, is chipped to cow corner for four by Rashid. Two balls later he lofts a sweet straight six, his second of the innings. This is the jauntiest of cameos from Rashid, who has raced to 29 from 28 balls.
“Hi Rob,” says Pete Salmon. “What is even more stunning than the rhyming of the three final phonemes, is that the three names have utterly diverse etymologies.
“Foakes is ‘from an Old German personal name, ‘Fulco’ or ‘Folco’, translating as ‘people’, and found as a given name in itself or as a short form of various Germanic names with the first element ‘folk’.
“Woakes is ‘an occupational name for someone employed by an overlord (in the feudal system) to collect weekly dues from the vassals or tenant farmers maintained by that lord, from the Middle High German “wuche, woche”, week, implying a weekly exaction of moneys by the “Wuchner” or “Wochner”.
“Stokes is ‘derived from the Olde English pre 7th Century “stocc”, stock, trunk of a tree, Middle English “stoke”, thus, “the place of the stump-clearings”. Can we always refer to Stokes as ‘the place of stump clearings’ when he’s bowling from now on?”
84th over: England 282-7 (Foakes 79, Rashid 18) Perera, on for Herath, is pulled round the corner for four by Foakes. It’s been a very simple innings, with low-risk shots and firm punishment of the bad ball. If you forget the beard, Foakes even looks a bit like Alastair Cook under the helmet.
83rd over: England 276-7 (Foakes 74, Rashid 17) Rashid top-edges a hook for six off Lakmal, with Dhananjaya helping it on its way as he fell over the fine leg boundary. England are inching towards 300, which would be a fine effort after losing five wickets before lunch.
“Rhyming cricketers?” says Dave Lovely. “Ahem…”
I thought Mark asked about three rhyming players on the same team. But it’s a fair cop, and I hereby tender my resignation.
82nd over: England 268-7 (Foakes 73, Rashid 10) Chandimal has left the field again with his groin injury. As Mike Atherton says on Sky, that’s a big problems these days because you are no longer allowed a runner. There could be fun and games if a wounded Chandimal and Angelo Matthews are at the crease together.
Back in the present, Rangana Herath shares the new ball. Foakes continues to bat in his bubble, pushing a single down the ground to move to 73. He is 27 away from becoming the second English wicketkeeper after Matt Prior to make a century on debut. That was a very different innings.
81st over: England 267-7 (Foakes 72, Rashid 10) Suranga Lakmal takes the second new ball and gets a bit of outswing to Rashid, who crashes an excellent cover drive for four. He has started very perkily.
“I note that England’s attack has right and left arm seam to complement wrist and finger spin,” says Gary Naylor, “but have they got drinks too? Always a handy option when a captain needs a wicket.”
In case you’re wondering what the bloody blazes Our Gary is on about, Jos Buttler and Sam Curran fell just before and after a drinks break.
80th over: England 262-7 (Foakes 71, Rashid 6) Rashid gets his first boundary with one of the most stylish shots of the day, a wristy chip over midwicket off Dhananjaya. The new ball is due and will surely be taken straight away.
“Rhyming cricketers?” says Stephen Wolstencroft. “We had a full rhyming XI at one point: Cooky, Straussy, Vaughney, Trotty, Belly, Colly, Matty, Broady, Ashley, Harmy, Jimmy.”
79th over: England 254-7 (Foakes 68, Rashid 1) Foakes pushes Dilruwan fractionally short of the swooping Mendis at short leg.
78th over: England 252-7 (Foakes 67, Rashid 0) Chandimal, the Sri Lankan captain, started limping as he began to celebrate that catch. He hurt his ground earlier in the day and, though I’m sure he’ll bat, I doubt he’ll be taking any quick singles.
“All this poetry inspired me,” says Matt Dony. “Just struggled with the last rhyme…
A dry, turning pitch in Sri Lanka;
A home win is often a banker.
But Foakes and Curran
Can score runs for fun.
Although Ali fell short, what a prat.
When you say ‘inspired’.
WICKET! England 252-7 (Curran c Chandimal b Dhananjaya 48)
Sam Curran falls after the drinks break. He tried to flash a wide delivery from Dhananjaya through the off side and edged to slip, where Chandimal took a smart catch. Curran played a stylish, confident innings and will be frustrated to miss out on a third Test fifty.
77th over: England 251-6 (Foakes 66, Curran 48) “With Woakes, Foakes and Stokes all potentially in the same team,” says Mark Hooper, “has there been a rhyming trio of cricketers in a Test match before?”
Hick, Trescothick and Caddick played together a bit in 2000-01, if they count. Hold that thought, because it’s drinks.
76th over: England 249-6 (Foakes 65, Curran 46) Akila Dhananjaya, the most expensive bowler today, returns in place of Dhananjaya de Silva. Curran, who has accumulated patiently when not hitting sixes, moves to within four of a half-century. England have so well since lunch, which they took in a bit of a mess at 113 for five.
“I’m pretty sure the last time we had any semblance of a genuine Big Narstie in the side was when Tremlett had his one great tour of Australia in 2010/11,” says Harkarn Sumal. “The Curran lads are more Kris Kross really. Tremendous fun. As for Anderson and Broad, well, I’ll make you an opening offer of PJ Harvey and Nick Cave.”
So who’s James Blunt?
75th over: England 246-6 (Foakes 65, Curran 43) Dilruwan brings a man into an unusual fielding position for Curran, halfway down the pitch on the line of short leg. I don’t know what you call that position. Extra short leg? Absurd mid-on? Desperate measure?
“Continuing the poetic theme,” begins Jake Garlick, “I advocate Woakes being selected next Test so that the following limerick can be wheeled out (at least five times per session):
There was an all-rounder named Stokes,
And they picked another named Woakes.
There’s a new opener named Burns,
And on a pitch that turns,
You need a specialist keeper like Foakes.
74th over: England 243-6 (Foakes 64, Curran 42) Dhananjaya da Silva tosses one up to Curran, who drives it lazily down the ground for a one-bounce four. The next ball is a nervous long hop that Curran pulls extravagantly for his third six. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this kid! This has been another superb innings. Who needs a top order when you’ve got Sam Curran at No8?
“Morning Rob,” says Matt Emerson. “I was listening to the radio coverage on my way in (TalkSport are doing a good job – Gareth Batty and Matt Prior were excellent) and Atherton said that Galle is in his top half dozen of overseas grounds, along with Adelaide, Newlands, and the Antigua Recreation Ground. None of which I’ve been to, but I wondered if some of the fellow OBOers had? It’s about time I dragged the entire family half way round the world to watch a cricket match they’re utterly uninterested in, rather than going into London for the same outcome…
“Anyhoo, the list of overseas fifties on debut for England shows an interesting mix of early promise (Hameed), careers cut short (Bryan Valentine) and true greatness (Cook, Hobbs, Hammond). As ever, a reminder not to go overboard on early promise. That said…”
73rd over: England 231-6 (Foakes 63, Curran 31) Two spinners are an OBO writer’s worst nightmare, with the exception of the recurring dream in which your fingers freeze at the precise moment England win an Ashes decider by one run. They get through the overs so quickly that they become almost indistinguishable. That last over, from Dilruwan, brought only a single to Foakes.
72nd over: England 230-6 (Foakes 62, Curran 31) “Rob,” says Brian Withington. “Your reference to a piece of filth courtesy of Perera put me in mind of early forays into adult cricket as a 70s adolescent. One middle-aged, rotund slow bowler in particular prided himself on describing his own bowling as left-arm ‘flighted filth’ with frankly troubling lasciviousness. Younger batsmen were lured into his sordid web and terrified of succumbing to one of his flighted dirt bombs that resembled a mortar shell for ‘hang time’ and often landed with similar effect. Disturbing days.”
And I thought the world of light entertainment was bad in the 70s.
71st over: England 226-6 (Foakes 60, Curran 29) Foakes is dropped at short leg! It was a sharp chance to Kusal Mendis off the bowling of Dilruwan, who got one to turn sharply into Foakes. He flicked it towards short leg, where Mendis reacted smartly but was unable to hang on to his left.
“Morning Rob,” says Brian Withington. “Whilst very much admiring the sheer simplicity of Kim Thonger’s 60th over selectorial epiphany, my mid-termish vote of the day so far has to go to Charlie Tinsley (over 48) for being first to identify that Foakes must now be a candidate for relinquishing the gloves in order to bat higher up. This tail-tweaking insight is especially splendid since it precedes any wicket keeping duties actually being performed (doubtless proving the batting favouring benefits of being spared such duties). I doff my hat, thusly.”
I give it two days, at most, before somebody suggests a top three of Foakes, Woakes and Stokes and doggedly insists it’s not for poetic reasons.
70th over: England 226-6 (Foakes 60, Curran 29) The offspinner Dhananjaya da Silva – not to be confused with Akila Dhananjaya, unless you’re a racist – comes into the attack for the first time. Curran almost gives a return catch, with the ball landing just short of the bowler. That aside, it’s a quiet over.
69th over: England 224-6 (Foakes 59, Curran 28) In recent years, Sri Lanka have routinely bowled non-Asian opposition out for less than 200, sometimes less than 100. They look a bit confused by England’s inability to commit hara-kiri. Foakes has 59 from 135 balls, Curran 28 from 76. This, I suspect, is the main reason Curran was picked ahead of Stuart Broad, and so far it has worked.
“So Rob,” says Phil Harrison. “What the heck do you do when Bairstow’s fit? It’s bordering on impossible, isn’t it? I’m wondering if they might have to look at Stokes up the order, possibly at three? It sounds ridiculous but I just don’t see what else they can do. Dropping Foakes would be crazily harsh after this performance, Buttler played well today and was England’s best batter in their last series and Bairstow (just about) still has enough credit in the bank. It’s ridiculously tough.”
They might only need five bowlers in the next game, depending on the pitch, so there’s the option to bat Foakes at No8 and Curran No9. Under this new culture, I suspect there will be many more bespoke XIs. Stokes at No3 is an option in these conditions, certainly. Pretty much everything is on the table, except perhaps an opening partnership of Jack Leach and Big Narstie.
68th over: England 223-6 (Foakes 59, Curran 27) It’s easy to forget, as I type the OBO while muscular flunkies wave a fan either side of my freshly moisturised phizog, that the humidity in Sri Lanka is hideously uncomfortable. When he made a century against Murali in Colombo in 1992-93, Robin Smith didn’t go to the toilet for 48 hours afterwards. Foakes and Curran look a little hot and bothered, though it has yet to affect their decision-making with the bat. It’s been a superbly judged partnership.
67th over: England 221-6 (Foakes 58, Curran 26) “Foakes has tickled my imagination,” says Abhijato Sensarma. “He has been solid in defence, and has unfurled compact shots at appropriate moments – considering he can keep too, maybe he is the orthodox batsman this rather inventive English Test has needed. He has also managed to tickle my poetic muse, which has allowed me to write this small rhyme to chug us along on what has sometimes been a slow, if still absorbing, day of good ol’ cricket!
Sit up, folks!
We have got not one, not two, but three English blokes
Who can keep wickets, put a price on their wickets and have a kerchief in their pocket which soaks
All the pressure from the fans, and the bowlers – Buttler, Bairstow, and now Foakes!
But what about Stokes and Woakes?
66th over: England 221-6 (Foakes 58, Curran 26) Curran brings up the fifty partnership in style, jumping down the track to lift Herath over wide mid-on for six. This kid!
65th over: England 212-6 (Foakes 58, Curran 17) A piece of filth from Perera is pulled firmly for four by Foakes. His patience and shot selection have been immaculate. Apart from the fact he’s right-handed, bats No7 and has a beard, it’s just like watching Alastair Cook.
64th over: England 208-6 (Foakes 54, Curran 17) Foakes, the monk at the orgy, works Herath for a single to move to 54 from 123 balls. Given the circumstances, both for him and the team, it’s been such an impressive innings.
“Kim Thonger is a conceptual, strategic, forward-planning genius,” says Matt Dony. “I can’t imagine a better approach. Certainly not a more entertaining one. Maybe a run at Brexit, next?”
SHUT UP ABOUT THAT THING, DONY. I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE.
62nd over: England 205-6 (Foakes 52, Curran 16) Nobody knows anything, not until both sides have batted on a pitch, but the recent history of Galle suggests England are in a pretty good position here. If they reach 300, they’ll be favourites. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan captain Dinesh Chandimal is back on the field; he pulled up with a groin problem in the afternoon session.
61st over: England 203-6 (Foakes 51, Curran 15) Dilruwan Perera replaces Lakmal and is worked for a single by Foakes, who reaches an accomplished, level-headed fifty on debut. Well played indeed. Later in the over Curran is beaten by a cracking slower off-break that spits past the edge.
“Half-centuries on debut are not conducive to staying in the side, then,” says Andrew Benton. “Whatever happened to Tim Ambrose.”
Didn’t get enough runs.
60th over: England 199-6 (Foakes 49, Curran 14) Rangana Herath returns to the attack after tea. Sri Lanka know that one wicket could bring four, so this is an important little period in the context of the game, the series and the future of the whole wide world. He bowls a maiden to Foakes, who thus stays one short of his fifty.
“Morning Rob,” says Kim Thonger. “I’ve had an epiphanic lie in. The Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) principle should apply to selection policy for Sri Lanka tours.
“1. Ditch all the current specialist batsmen and seam bowlers.
2. Pick the best six wicketkeepers in England and have them bat 1 to 6
3. Pick the five best spin bowlers at 7 to 11
4. Root as 12th man.
“Job done. Now, breakfast.”
That was a much better session for England, who sexed down their approach from the morning and scored 86 runs for the loss of Jos Buttler, caught behind off Dilruwan Perera. Buttler, Curran and especially Ben Foakes played with an abundance of commonsense. See you soon for the evening session.
59th over: England 199-6 (Foakes 49, Curran 14) Foakes glides Lakmal wide of gully for four, another effective stroke in this admirably low-key innings. A couple of weeks ago he was a strong contender for the all-time England Uncapped XI; now he’s one away from a fifty on Test debut. And with that, it’s tea!
“Morning Rob,” says Ben Powell. “Great to have Test cricket back, if only briefly and before what looks like a long gap until the Ashes. I want to say Matt Prior for the last w/k to score 50+ on debut overseas, but feel that’s too obvious so am going to say Geraint Jones. Cue laughter track?”
Get out. I’ll open the door for ya. I’ll allow you to say what you like about me, my Guardian colleagues or my historical haircuts but you will never, ever badmouth a member of the 2005 Ashes squad on my watch.
58th over: England 192-6 (Foakes 44, Curran 12) Dan Woodward wins the great OBO pop quiz by pointing out that Tim Ambrose was the last England keeper to make a half-century on debut in an overseas Test. In fact only two have ever done it: Tim Ambrose in 2008 and Jar-Jar Binks in 1964.
Dhananjaya continues to Curran, who is defending with impressive certainty. It’s a maiden.
57th over: England 192-6 (Foakes 44, Curran 12) Foakes pulls Lakmal just short of midwicket and through for a couple. I think the ball stopped in the pitch, which caused that rare false stroke from Foakes. The equilibrium of his innings has been jolly impressive.
“I’m a little bit disconcerted,” says Richard O’Hagan. “For the first time in, well, as long as I can remember, I can’t think of anything to criticise in this England selection. I would’ve liked to see Denly get a chance, but I simply can’t think who he would’ve replaced. It’s a very strange feeling.”
He could have played instead of Foakes, who has done bugg- ah.
56th over: England 190-6 (Foakes 42, Curran 12) After making six runs from his first 36 deliveries, Sam Curran doubles his score by swiping Dhananjaya sweetly over long off. This kid! That’s the first six of the match.
“How about a shout-out for Zimbabwe winning their first away Test since 2001 – when the world was very different,” says Andrew Gladwin. “A huge result in the current context of the travails of both Zimbabwe as a country and a cricket team. Bairstow back as opener? Would be more an option surely if he doesn’t need to keep.”
Ah yes, I saw they were poised to win but missed the final result. As for Bairstow, surely he’s too loose at the moment to bat anywhere in the top three? I think the ideal would be for him to bat No5 and not keep, but we’ve been here so many times before.
55th over: England 183-6 (Foakes 41, Curran 6) The underrated Suranga Lakmal, Sri Lanka’s token seamer, returns to the attack. He picked up Rory Burns and Moeen Ali this morning, two bonus wickets in many ways. Curran plays a wristy cut stroke but can’t beat the man at point, so it’s a maiden.
54th over: England 183-6 (Foakes 41, Curran 6) “Ah, England Test cricket, how I’ve missed you,” says Guy Hornsby. “Though nothing punches you in the metaphorical chops quite like the first morning on a turning pitch in Galle. I wonder how much Rory Burns is kicking himself, as he’d looked lively. I sense he may have something to say about getting 9 in the second innings, but by then getting to 30 will feel like a ton. A penny for YJB’s thoughts right now. He should give Glenn McGrath a call.”
Bairstow will be straight back in the side when he’s fit, though it might not be as keeper. Who’d be a selector? I would! It’s bloody great fun at times like these, especially from the armchair.
53rd over: England 180-6 (Foakes 40, Curran 4) Pop quiz, children: who was the last England wicketkeeper to make a half-century on debut in an overseas Test?
Meanwhile, Dhananjaya replaces the slightly subdued Herath – he’ll do his work in the second innings – and produces one big legspinner that Curran defends. These two are going well. Slowly, but well.
52nd over: England 178-6 (Foakes 38, Curran 4) This will probably be described as a lower-order revival, but the way we should view this England Test team has changed under Ed Smith. Effectively, they have eight batsmen and six bowlers, so runs from Curran at No8 are no more unusual than runs from Nos 1-3. If anything, they are less surprising.
51st over: England 177-6 (Foakes 37, Curran 4) Foakes has, paradoxically, caught the eye by being so unspectacular. He’s played an old-fashioned Test innings and looks the sort of even-tempered player England need. I know it’s early but he already looks a serious long-term option, especially as his keeping is world-class. Goodness knows what happens when Jonny Bairstow is fit. Maybe England should just do away with a top-order and play seven all-rounders, like Pep Guardiola does with midfielders.
50th over: England 176-6 (Foakes 36, Curran 4) There are already hints of the vicious pitch this should become, with the odd ball turning sharply. There’s another from Perera, which rips a long way past Curran’s attempted drive. If England get 250 they will be right in this game.
49th over: England 174-6 (Foakes 35, Curran 3) A quiet over from Herath is enlivened by a nice stat from Bumble on Sky, who points out that Curran wasn’t born when Herath made his first-class debut.
“Curious that the match is taking place on a pitch which is likely to deteriorate in 2-3 days,” says John Starbuck. “Anyone would think they couldn’t be bothered to play over five days. Is there no-one around in cricket with a good appreciation of the money aspect?”
It’s just not cricket.
48th over: England 173-6 (Foakes 35, Curran 2) The non-striker Curran survives a token run-out referral after scampering back for a second. The pitch is pretty good at the moment, so there’s no need for England to be as frantic as they were in the morning session. The longer they bat, the less time Sri Lanka will have before the pitch starts to turn square.
In other news, here’s Charlie Tinsley. “Should Foakes be releived of the gloves to allow him to bat further up the order?”
47th over: England 170-6 (Foakes 33, Curran 1) Herath continues to the impressive Ben Foakes, who has played with patience and commonsense. That game of football in Colombo a couple of weeks ago may prove to be a significant sliding door in English cricket history, like Michael Vaughan’s slipping in the nets at Lord’s in 2004. Foakes works the ball through midwicket, and the chasing Chandimal pulls up holding his groin. That’s a worry for Sri Lanka, and he leaves the field immediately.