Sri Lanka 240 and 164 for 5 (Mendis 77*, Roshen 37*) need a further 163 runs to beat England 336 and 230 (Buttler 64, Dilruwan 5-88)
Kusal Mendis swept, cut and pulled his way to an unflustered 77 off 101 balls, while Roshen Silva joined him for an unbeaten 82-run partnership, as Sri Lanka held England at bay before lunch, after England had dismissed nightwatchman Lakshan Sandakan in the tenth over of the day.
Five down already, and with five sessions still to play, a good result for Sri Lanka is still unthinkable. They remain 163 runs from the target of 327. But in at least stalling England’s advance towards a whitewash, the hosts showed a little fight on the fourth morning.
Regardless of its significance in the context of the series, this innings has already been already a vital one for Mendis. He had not crossed fifty in eleven Test innings, and given his modest form in ODIs as well over the last few months, there were whispers that it may do him good to be left out for a series or two.
But here, he provided reminders of his strengths: uncluttered shot-making, an excellent technique against spin, strong shots on the leg-side, and a well-organised defence. He hit a six off the fourth ball he faced in the morning, launching a rank full toss off Moeen Ali over the deep midwicket rope, and would continue to punish the England spinners’ errors of length severely.
He routinely rocked back to crash the long hops in the big arc between fine leg and long on, and generally placed the strokes well enough to evade fielders in the ring. Importantly, his tempo never dipped, as he effortlessly found singles into the outfield when England began to more intensively protect the boundaries.