ENGLAND batsman Gary Ballance struggled to find the words to describe scoring his maiden Test century at Lord’s, before settling on “brilliant” and “over the moon”.
Playing in only his second Test match, Ballance made an unbeaten 104 to help England close the penultimate day on 267 for eight in their second innings and a lead of 389 over Sri Lanka.
An understandably delighted Ballance, who reached three figures by smashing Rangana Herath for six off the first delivery of the day’s final over, said of his century: “I can’t describe it. That was just brilliant, the feeling I have now and ten minutes ago is indescribable. I’m just over the moon at the moment. It’s the thing you dream about isn’t it.”
England looked in trouble after being reduced to 121 for six, but Ballance and Chris Jordan (35) got them back on track with a 78-run stand for the seventh wicket before the Yorkshire batsman and Stuart Broad (24) put on 57 more to leave Alastair Cook’s men in a strong position heading into the final day.
It remains to be seen if Cook will declare overnight, but Ballance admitted he wanted to get his ton yesterday evening regardless. The left-hander said: “We might still have a few overs out there tomorrow, I’m not so sure, but I was definitely looking to get it this evening.”
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews, who scored 102 as the tourists were bowled out for 453, heaped praise on his bowlers for their showing yesterday but conceded their chances of victory had been hit by the stand between Ballance and Jordan.
“It’s a really good wicket but I think the bowlers bowled brilliantly in the second innings. We put them under pressure but they’ve got a healthy lead,” said Mathews, who saw spinner Herath take four for 95 and seamer Shaminda Eranga three for 63.
“Until Ballance and Jordan got together we had our chances. I’m not saying we’re out of the game but we need to bat sensibly because they’ve got a healthy lead and the wicket is batting up and down.”
Mathews’ 172-ball hundred, to add to Kumar Sangakkara’s memorable 147, had earlier helped to keep the hosts out in the field for another 75 minutes on a cloudy morning. Mathews received support from the tail against England’s pace attack to move from an overnight 79 to three figures. Herath faced 14 balls from Broad, almost all short, before he found himself having to deal with James Anderson (three for 93) for the first time. Anderson needed only one shot at the left-hander too, full and fast enough to knock out middle-stump.
Mathews went to his century, in his first Test innings in this country, smashing a full-toss over extra cover for his 12th four from the final ball of an Anderson over – after England had brought up the field to keep No 10 Eranga on strike at the other end.
Mathews lasted only one more delivery, Liam Plunkett immediately seeing him off when he was lbw to a full-length ball – before No 11 Nuwan Pradeep was felled by a bouncer from Jordan (three for 102) and smacked the stumps with his bat as he fell to be last out hit-wicket.
England then had the chance to extend their lead, a task ultimately accomplished if not by conventional method.