CHESTER-LE-STREET: Moeen Ali said he owed England a big score after his Test-best 155 not out helped put Alastair Cook’s men in sight of a series-clinching win over Sri Lanka on Saturday.
Ali’s innings was at the heart of England’s commanding 498 for nine declared on the second day of the second Test at the Riverside.
The Worcestershire all-rounder shared valuable partnerships of 92 for the seventh wicket and 72 for the ninth with pacemen Chris Woakes and Steven Finn respectively.
But both Ali (on 36) and Woakes (eight) were dropped in the midst of an awful Sri Lanka fielding effort.
That was compounded by their third collapse in as many innings this series, as Sri Lanka slumped to 91 for eight at stumps — a colossal 407 runs behind on first innings — with Woakes taking three wickets for nine runs in seven overs.
England, who won last week’s first Test of a three-match series by an innings and 88 runs at Headingley, are now looking at another crushing victory.
Ali made his name as a top-order batsman with Worcestershire but has been deployed primarily as an off-spinner by England, often batting at No.8.
This match saw the 28-year-old promoted to No.7 in the absence of injured all-rounder Ben Stokes.
And Ali was delighted to seize his chance in the middle by scoring just his second century in his 25-Test career following his unbeaten 108 against Sri Lanka in a losing cause at Headingley two years ago.
“I think it’s about time as I felt like I owe the team some runs,” Ali told Sky Sports.
“Once I got in I started to time the ball well, although I struggled early on. I’d not really spent much time in the middle and sometimes it makes it difficult to get your batting head on, but I was just told to go and play my game and play how I do at Worcester and I tried to do that.
“I’ve tried to tighten up a bit, but if I see the shot I’ll go for it,” the left-handed batsman added.
As for the match situation, Ali said the second day could hardly have gone better from an England perspective.
“It was perfect today, especially the way we bowled. To have them eight down at the close has made it a brilliant day.”
One lone highlight for Sri Lanka on Saturday was when left-arm spinner Rangana Herath took his 300th Test wicket.
Herath, 38, was just the third Sri Lankan to achieve the feat after extraordinary off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan (800 Test wickets) and left-arm seamer Chaminda Vaas (355).
“It’s a big achievement taking 300 Test wickets,” said Herath, who reached the landmark when he caught and bowled Finn.
But he accepted Sri Lanka had to tighten up in the field and with the bat.
“That’s where the game got away from us, dropping those two very important chances … and then Moeen batted very well,” said Herath.
“We need to learn and improve in all departments in these conditions.” –AFP