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SAM MORSHEAD: This was not so much a victory over Sri Lanka as a demolition of the hosts on a ground where the tourists had never even got close on their four previous visits
Galle (fourth day of five): England 342 & 322-6d, Sri Lanka 203 & 250 - England won by 211 runs
Seven hundred and 47 days later, the wait is finally over.
When Rangana Herath was run out with half an hour of the fourth day's play in Galle remaining, England’s long barren streak in overseas Test matches finally came to an end. And in some style.
This was not so much a victory over Sri Lanka as a demolition of the hosts on a ground where the tourists had never even got close on their four previous visits.
Propelled by breakthrough centuries from Ben Foakes and Keaton Jennings, and dynamic and disciplined spin bowling by Jack Leach, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, England produced their most complete performance on foreign soil for some considerable time.
It helped that Sri Lanka’s own bowling arsenal was massively underwhelming and their batsmen too prone to self-harm, but that should not detract from the quality of the away side’s performance and the importance of this win.
For Herath, the left-arm spinner who retires from Test cricket after this match, it was a limp end to a magnificent career.
Moeen Ali was excellent with the ball on Friday
The team that he leaves behind as he wanders back into the world of bank clerks and domestic cricket is a rapidly fading shadow of the iconic group with whom he enjoyed some of Sri Lankan cricket’s best years.
Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Co must have winced at their country’s surrender on Friday, in the wake of a giant target on a ground which has only ever seen one fourth-innings score of 300 in Tests.
Too many wickets came as a result of reckless shot selection, as Sri Lanka displayed the self-restraint of a toddler with free reign over the biscuit barrel. Too often, knowing they had to bat for two days to save the game, did their batsmen abdicate the responsibility of the situation.
England made the most of the opportunities they were afforded and, with two more Tests to come in quick succession, a rare series victory in Asia looks theirs for the taking.
The visitors were made to toil for much of the first hour of play on Friday, as Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva consolidated.
Stokes spilled a fairly routine chance at slip off Moeen Ali and, at drinks, Sri Lanka would have been happy with the application their batsmen had shown. That quickly changed.
Silva played an ugly sweep, was rapped on the pad and wasted a review trying to overturn Jack Leach’s successful appeal for lbw and, not long after, Karunaratne came shimmying down the wicket at Moeen only to drill the ball back into the offspinner’s waiting grasp.
Two cheap and needless wickets piled the pressure back on the hosts.
Jack Leach was in good form
Dhananjaya de Silva and Kusal Mendis rebuilt and seemed set to take lunch unbeaten but, after Mendis allowed Joe Root to hurry through what should have been the final over before the interval, De Silva edged Stokes to the England captain at slip.
With seven wickets remaining and 10 hours still to bat, the home side needed to show some kind of staying power in the second session and, for a while, they did.
After half-an-hour of belligerence after lunch, however, Mendis and Angelo Mathews started to lose their patience.
The warning signs were there when Mathews pulled Stokes hard to Jimmy Anderson at midwicket, only for the England seamer to spill the chance, but Mendis failed to take heed.
Instead, the ball after depositing Leach down the ground for four, he attempted the same shot and only picked out Moeen at mid-off.
It was cricketing hari kari.
Dinesh Chandimal, already dropped by Foakes off a tough inside edge from Anderson, could only make one before he was undone by a savage delivery from Leach.
Pitching on leg stump and taking the top of off, a man with a fully functioning groin would have struggled to negate the 58 centimetres of turn. Chandimal, who has been hobbling about this Test since the first day, simply did not have the reach.
Niroshan Dickwella lost his wicket to the first ball after tea, caught superbly by Stokes low to his left off Moeen and Mathews, having completed his second half-century of the match just before the break, drove to Buttler at cover to leave Sri Lanka teetering.
Akila Dananjaya put on 32 with Perera before edging Moeen to Stokes, who held onto another smart catch off Rashid to get rid of Perera not long after.
That left Herath to wander to the crease for the final time in Tests. He finished, face down in the dirt, desperately trying to make his ground.
He couldn't. This week belongs to England.