|Second Test, Galle (day four of five)|
|Sri Lanka 381 (Mathews 110, Anderson 6-40) & 126 (Bess 4-49, Leach 4-59)|
|England 344 (Root 186, Embuldeniya 7-137) & 164-4 (Sibley 56*, Buttler 46*)|
|England won by six wickets|
England completed a thrilling victory on day four of the second Test against Sri Lanka to take the series 2-0.
Chasing a tricky 164, England were 89-4 on a turning pitch but opener Dom Sibley hit 56 not out to lead them to a six-wicket win.
Sibley, who had not reached double figures in the series, put on 75 with Jos Buttler, who made 46 not out.
Earlier, England capitalised on reckless batting to dismiss Sri Lanka for 126 in their second innings.
Dom Bess and Jack Leach took four wickets each and the hosts would have been dismissed even more cheaply but for 40 from number 10 Lasith Embuldeniya, who finished with match figures of 10-210.
Resuming on 339-9 in their first innings, England conceded a first-innings deficit of 37 when Jack Leach was dismissed with only five runs added.
Sri Lanka were favourites at that point but England completed a turnaround on a dramatic day when 15 wickets fell.
The series win is England’s fourth in a row and they are also unbeaten in 10 successive Tests under Joe Root’s captaincy, going into a difficult series in India which starts on 5 February.
England are fourth in the World Test Championship table, 0.5% behind third-placed Australia.
England turn it around
This was also England’s fifth consecutive away Test, the first time they have achieved that feat since World War One. They are developing an impressive winning habit.
Sri Lanka’s batting, perhaps spooked by the turning pitch, was inept and their effort in the field lacklustre, but England were clinical.
Bess and Leach bowled well – far better than their wicketless showing in the first innings – while James Anderson took a brilliant high catch and Zak Crawley two excellent grabs at short leg.
Sri Lanka were leading only by 115 when their eighth wicket fell, before Embuldeniya, who had a remarkable game in defeat, dragged them to a score.
The target looked competitive – the hosts were possibly even favourites – but the manner England in which overhauled it was mightily impressive.
There was a wobble when Jonny Bairstow was trapped lbw for a useful 28-ball 29, Root – the dominant player in the series – was bowled for 11 and Dan Lawrence edged behind with a further 85 needed.
However, Sibley played the anchor role while Buttler provided impetus in his typically attacking style.
Sibley, so at sea in his previous three innings, calmly nudged singles into the leg side. Buttler played thumped drives to the extra-cover boundary, smacked a reverse sweep through point and launched a slog sweep through mid-wicket.
In the end, England won with ease, Sibley sealing a fine win by tapping for one.
Poor end for wasteful Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka threatened better in this match, having been convincingly beaten by seven wickets in the first.
They batted well in the first innings and in Embuldeniya they have a fine spinner, playing only his ninth Test.
But their fourth-day performance was abysmal. Their batting was akin to their performance on day one of the series when they were bowled out for 135.
The dismissals of captain Dinesh Chandimal – skying a slog sweep to Anderson at mid-on having hit a four a ball earlier – and Niroshan Dickwella, who drove Bess to extra cover two minutes before lunch, were the worst of a series of needlessly aggressive shots.
Sri Lanka also disappointed in the field. They were a little unfortunate that Sibley survived three tight lbw reviews, all of which were umpire’s call, but their tactics were baffling.
Chandimal set the field back and allowed an accumulator in Sibley to tick along as he wished.
The lessons learned on victorious tour
This tour, while important for points in the World Test Championship, always felt like the warm-up act in a huge year for England’s Test team.
Next they face a far bigger challenge in India before a summer against New Zealand, top of the Test rankings, India again, and an Ashes series in Australia the winter.
The biggest plus of this series has been the emphatic run-scoring of Root. He did not score a century in 2019 but made 228 and 186, albeit against a poor Sri Lanka. The skipper amassed 426 runs at an average of 106.50 in the series.
Bess and Leach were by no means perfect – they bowl too many bad balls – but finished the series with 12 and 10 wickets respectively.
The match-winning fifty for Sibley is also a significant boost going into the four Tests in India. Having been dismissed by Embuldeniya in every innings on tour previously, he showed he can grind out a score.
England’s veteran bowlers, Anderson and Stuart Broad, proved once again they can perform in unhelpful conditions.
There are question marks, however, about opener Crawley, whose top score in four innings was 13.
The issues at the top of the order are complicated by the fact Bairstow, who has done well at number three, has been rested for the first two Tests in India.
‘A really, really strong performance’ – reaction
England opener Dom Sibley on Test Match Special: “I didn’t think I’d left any stone unturned with regards playing spin, but then you go back to your room in the evening and think ‘maybe I’m not up to this’ and have those doubts.
“It is about accepting those and just believing. It just feels like pure relief at the moment.”
Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal: “We were outplayed today. We have done all the hard work in the last three days but as a batting unit we made the same mistakes of the first Test. There are no excuses for the batsmen and we’ve got to learn how to bat like Joe Root.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan: “A really, really strong performance from England. If you look down from one to 11, most people have contributed.
“They will have to bowl better in India. But the confidence that this will do for the team, and for Joe Root at the start of a huge year, is huge.”