Jonny Bairstow eased into life as England’s latest number three, posting an unbeaten 81 at tea on day one of the final Test against Sri Lanka.
Bairstow was parachuted into the problem position on his recall to the side, the sixth player this year to take up the challenge, and looked to the manor born as he guided the tourists to 197 for three in Colombo as they pursued a series whitewash.
The 29-year-old lost the wicketkeeping gloves to Ben Foakes due to injury in Galle and was overlooked when passed fit in Kandy, but embraced his opportunity to carve out a new and important niche in the side.
After openers Rory Burns (14) and Keaton Jennings (13) both fell in the first hour, he added exactly 100 with captain Joe Root and an unbroken 61 with Ben Stokes through the afternoon, hitting eight fours and a six in his 133-ball stay.
Root began the day by winning his eighth toss in a row, cashing in on his remarkable luck by choosing to bat first for the third time on the trip.
The pitch at Colombo’s Sinhalese Sports Club did not offer elaborate early turn, but Burns still contrived to lose his off stump to an ill-judged cut at Dilruwan Perera and Jennings turned Malifa Puspakumara directly to a leg-slip fielder installed just seconds earlier.
At 36 for two Bairstow and Root led a counter-attack. Bairstow’s first ball was driven for four through extra-cover, there were back-to-back boundaries off Lakshan Sandakan and even a wonderfully-timed swatted six off Pushpakumara. Root, meanwhile, was finding considerable success on the sweep.
Both men survived DRS referrals as Sri Lanka again wasted their precious resource, a caught behind shout against Bairstow flicking elbow rather than bat and Root hit outside the line of off stump by Sandakan.
The pair continued to wear Sri Lanka down in stifling heat, Bairstow’s half-century and the hundred stand both notched off before Root erred. He set himself for a slog-sweep but could only muster a tame top edge as he finished the shot one-handed, departing for 46.
Sri Lanka should have added the wicket of Ben Stokes for a 14-ball duck when he was trapped in front of middle and off by Perera but Chris Gaffaney’s poor decision, coupled with their own wasteful use of DRS, allowed him a reprieve.
The fourth-wicket pair went on to frustrate the fielding side until the interval, Stokes moving through the gears with four fours and a six after his slow start and Bairstow only worried by a loud appeal for caught behind on 79.
Replays suggested the tiniest of nicks but once again Suranga Lakmal had no way to challenge.