Jonny Bairstow proves his point to carry England with brilliant hundred

Sri Lanka v England, 3rd Test, Colombo, 1st day November 23, 2018

England 312 for 7 (Bairstow 110, Stokes 57) v Sri Lanka

Jonny Bairstow put England - and his own Test career - back on track with a high-class century on the first day in Colombo.

After Joe Root won the toss for the eighth time in succession in Test cricket - one short of the all-time record for an individual captain - Bairstow made 110 to help England take advantage of first use of a dry track that is expected to offer more help for spinners as the game wears on. It also compensated for a slightly underwhelming display from his colleagues.

It had been a tough few weeks for Bairstow. After suffering an ankle injury during the limited-overs section of the tour, he has had to watch on as Ben Foakes was called into the squad as a replacement and seized his chance so well it has become hard to see how Bairstow could reclaim the gloves.

There was no recall even after he recovered his fitness. Bairstow was left out of the team for the Pallekele Test and won a recall here only after Sam Curran was ruled out with a side strain.

There was a catch, though. The only spot available for Bairstow was at No. 3; a position for which he had never previously showed any enthusiasm and in which he had little experience for Yorkshire.

Whatever reservations Bairstow may have had about the role, however, he seized the chance wonderfully well. Easing his first delivery through the covers for four, Bairstow looked completely at home while cutting and sweeping his way to his sixth Test century, and his first batting above No. 6.

More significantly, it was England's first century from No. 3 in two years, and 27 Tests, since Root made one in Rajkot. It would probably be premature to conclude that Bairstow has nailed down the position for the foreseeable - some very different challenges loom back in England, in particular - but he has surely made himself hard to leave out when England pick their side for the first Test in the Caribbean in a couple of months.

Perhaps that explained Bairstow's emotion upon reaching the landmark. Dropping his bat and seeming to roar in the direction of the media centre, Bairstow appeared to feel he had proved his doubters wrong. Or perhaps it was simply relief. This century was made in stifling heat and Bairstow was struggling with cramp long before he reached his landmark.

Either way, England were grateful for Bairstow's contribution. On a good batting track, none of their other batsmen were able to take advantage for long enough to set the imposing first-innings total for which they would have hoped - 400 is probably somewhere around par at this stage.

After an impatient Rory Burns was bowled, giving himself a huge amount of room and attempting to cut a delivery that was neither wide enough or short enough for the stroke, Keaton Jennings failed to spot a field change and turned one straight into the hands of leg slip. Root again looked in sparkling form as he added 100 for the third wicket with Bairstow, but when he top-edged a slog-sweep it brought Sri Lanka back into the game.

Bairstow added a further 99 with Ben Stokes. After surviving a nervous start, taking 14 balls to get off the mark, Stokes started to find his feet with a series of pulls and sweeps, once skipping down the pitch to drill Dilruwan Perera for a straight six and once heaving him over midwicket.

At 235 for 3, England looked set for a total somewhere in excess of 400. But Stokes was drawn into pushing at one that left him from Lakshan Sandakan, which gripped and took his edge, Jos Buttler drilled a return catch to the same bowler and Foakes edged an attempted cut.

Sri Lanka may be frustrated, though. Stokes survived a couple of strong lbw appeals before he had scored with replays suggesting the second of them, off Dilruwan, could have been overturned had Sri Lanka had a review available. Similarly, Bairstow could have been given out, on review, on 103.

As it was, however, Sri Lanka's keeper, Niroshan Dickwella, had persuaded his captain to use both reviews within the first session of the day.

The first, a caught behind appeal against Bairstow, showed the bat hitting the ground rather than any edge and the second, a leg before appeal against Root, showed the ball hit the pad well outside the line. So Sri Lanka had no reviews left.

Dickwella completed a disappointing day when he put down Moeen Ali on 2. Moeen was also dropped at slip by Dimuth Karunaratne off the unfortunate Dilruwan on 17 and reviewed an lbw verdict on 19 which showed the ball passing harmlessly down the leg side.

But Bairstow looked solid from the start. With the ball turning little and the surface offering a little more pace than previous ones in the series, Bairstow was able to defend with confidence and put away anything short. At one stage,Sandakan was hit for successive fours - a full toss sweep followed by a long-hop cut - before Malinda Pushpakumara was slog-swept for six.

Indeed, on a blisteringly hot day - so warm has it been in Colombo lately that England have foregone their habit of warming-up for the day's work with a game of football - that Bairstow's biggest challenge would appear to have been the cramp that started to inhibit him long before he reached his century. It may well have been partially responsible for the hack across the line that ended his fine innings.

He had long since proved his point by then, though. Challenged to bat out of position and under pressure, Bairstow had responded with a fine century that has retained his side's hopes of achieving a first away whitewash (in a series of three matches or more) since 1963 and their first ever in Asia.

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