England needed little more than half an hour to wrap up a seven-wicket victory over Sri Lanka on the fifth morning in Galle, as Jonny Bairstow and debutant Dan Lawrence knocked off the remaining 36 runs to secure a 1-0 series lead.
The pair had resumed first thing with England 38 for three, their pursuit of 73 having wobbled the previous evening when Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Joe Root all fell in quick succession as Sri Lanka’s spinners induced a spell of panic.
But Bairstow and Lawrence combined for a stand of 52 that saw England home in the 25th over, the former sealing the win – and England’s fourth successive victory away from home – when sweeping Dilruwan Perera for his second boundary of the morning.
Bairstow finished unbeaten on 35 on his return to the side after a year-long absence, having made 47 the first innings, while Lawrence completed an encouraging Test debut by following the 73 he made on day two with 21 not out.
“To come in with the little preparation we’ve had and play in the manner we have is impressive,” said Joe Root, player of the match for his 228 in England’s first innings.
“The whole bowling group in general. To perform the way we did after lunch yesterday was brilliant. It’s a good start to the tour but we’ll keep looking to get better. There’s still more to come from the group and it’s important we have that attitude.”
This was Root’s 24th Test victory as England captain – seeing him go level with predecessors Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, and just two away from Michael Vaughan’s record – and a first on the road without his deputy, Ben Stokes, alongside him.
While there was obvious delight about his own performance – “The thing that pleased me the most was my mindset” – Root also used the presentation to talk up the five-wicket hauls secured by spinners Dom Bess and Jack Leach.
This was the first time since 1982 that two England spinners have got on the honours board in the same Test, with Root calling it “a brilliant achievement” and one that “shouldn’t be overlooked” as he looks to build the pair’s confidence with five Tests on the subcontinent still to come this winter.
Dinesh Chandimal, Sri Lanka’s stand-in captain, was left to rue a first innings implosion of 135 all out from his side. “We were outplayed in the first innings with bat and ball,” he said. “As a batting unit, we have to get a big total in the first innings. It cost us the game.”
Sri Lanka had gone into the final morning knowing they needed a miracle and after the fourth ball of the day Chandimal sent a review upstairs for lbw against Lawrence.
Kumar Dharmasena, the on-field umpire, appeared to gesture that the right-hander was struck outside the line when sweeping Perera, when in fact it was a brush of glove that made his not out decision correct.
Had Chandimal made use of the system during Perera’s next over, however, he would have secured the breakthrough. Lawrence was struck in front by one that spun in from the off-spinner and though the angle made lbw appear problematic, the ball-tracking suggested Dharmasena’s not out call would have been flipped.
These two moments were as close as Sri Lanka got to inducing a repeat of the previous evening’s drama, with the hosts instead left to rue what might have been had they not collapsed on the first day.
Their characterful second innings of 359, driven by a century from Lahiru Thirimanne and 71 from Angelo Mathews, should give them confidence, however, as they head into Friday’s second Test on the same ground looking to draw the series.