PALLEKELE, Sri Lanka: Spin duo Moeen Ali and Jack Leach combined to end England’s 17-year wait for a test series victory in Sri Lanka after bowling the tourists to a 57-run victory in the second test on Sunday.
Moeen struck twice in three deliveries and Leach completed his maiden five-wicket haul as the tourists took a little over 30 minutes on the final morning to seal victory and take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-test series.
Sri Lanka resumed on 226 for seven, needing 75 to keep the series alive after their opening loss in Galle, but were all out for 243 as England completed their first away series win in tests since beating South Africa at the beginning of 2016.
The England side led by Nasser Hussain were the last to register a series victory in Sri Lanka in 2001 and Joe Root’s men arrived in the country winless in their last 13 tests away from home.
Their last series victory in Asia was in India six years ago and not many would have bet on England to win with a match to spare against Sri Lanka, who defeated South Africa 2-0 at home in July.
“We said we are going to come out here and play bold cricket, we were quite courageous at times and everyone’s really bought into that. We are seeing the rewards now,” Root said at the post-match presentation.
“We have to keep looking to improve. We have seen this team grow in the last six-eight months. We are not the finished article, we want to get to number one at some point.
“We have to be consistent to do that, in all parts of the world and on different surfaces.”
For the first time in a test match, spinners claimed 38 wickets with Leach and Moeen sharing 14 between them on a turning track at Pallekele.
Sri Lanka’s stand-in captain Lakmal was the only quick to pick up a wicket while the other was a run out.
It was also the first time since 1973 in Karachi that no seamer took a wicket in a test for England.
When play resumed on Sunday, Sri Lanka’s hopes of squaring the series rested entirely on wicket-keeper Niroshan Dickwella, who was unbeaten on 27 overnight.
The hosts managed to keep the England spinners at bay for 15 minutes while picking up singles to advance towards their target but Moeen broke their resistance by dismissing Dickwella, who was caught at slip by Stokes for 35.
The off-spinner then sent back Lakmal for a duck two deliveries later before Malinda Pushpakumara spooned a catch straight back to left-arm spinner Leach.
“It was a brilliant test match,” said Root, who was named player of the match for his brilliant 124 in the second innings.
“We were very good for the whole game. At times we were under pressure and we responded really well to that. (I) couldn’t be more proud of the guys.”
Sri Lanka batted well in both innings but Sam Curran’s counter-attacking 64 in the first innings and Root’s century under pressure in the second made the difference for England.
“Sri Lanka played brilliantly in both innings,” added Root, after registering his first away series victory as captain.
“At times we lost clusters of wickets but we stayed very calm and managed to find ways to get back in the game and get the control back in our favour.”
The third and final test of the series will start on Friday in Colombo.