“When Moeen Ali and Jack Leach were finding it hard to cope with the batting masterclass put on display by Dimuth Karunaratne and Dhananjaya de Silva, it was Adil Rashid who emerged out of the shadows of Ali and Leach to bring England back into the game”

England’s ongoing Test series against Sri Lanka in the island nation has mostly been about their two spinners Moeen Ali and Jack Leach. The duo picked up a combined total of 27 wickets in the first couple of matches, which accounted for 67.5% of the total wickets picked up by the English bowlers, and thus helped them in sealing the fate of the series even before the final match.

Such was the enormity of their gigantic performances that it completely eclipsed the presence of another skilful spinner like Adil Rashid in the same team. Rashid had also done a decent job having claimed 7 wickets at an average of 30.67 in the first couple of matches. But it appeared to be nothing in front of the bowling numbers of Ali and Leach who picked up 14 and 13 wickets respectively. While the former had an average and strike-rate of 21.00 and 36.4, the latter’s numbers read 19.53 and 44.3 respectively.

It was quite exciting to watch the way these two spinners strangled up the Sri Lankan batsmen with their discipline and accuracy. Even though Adil Rashid produced some exciting spells of leg spin, his performances got completely overshadowed by the other two spinners.

However, when the two spinners found it hard to cope with the batting masterclass put on display by Dimuth Karunaratne and Dhananjaya de Silva in the first innings of the third and final match of the series at Colombo, it was Rashid who emerged out of the shadows of Ali and Leach to bring England back into the game.

The hosts were running away with the game as Karunaratne and de Silva’s stroke-filled knocks had taken Sri Lanka to a dominating total of 173/1 in reply to England’s first innings score of 336. It was Jack Leach who had accounted for the sole wicket of Danushka Gunathilaka in Sri Lanka’s innings. But he was completely rendered ineffective after that. The duo appeared fearless against Ali too, as he conceded runs at over four runs per over. Nothing seemed to be working for England.

Also read: Can the English spinners spin their way back to the days of Asian glory?

In these circumstances, England needed a new hero. It had turned out to be that kind of a series for them. Different individuals had stepped up on different occasions. The time had arrived for someone to step up once again. And England found their hero this time in Adil Rashid.

The pressure was on England as they were about to go for Tea on the second day. Sri Lanka, cruising along with Karunaratne and de Silva at the crease, had the least things to worry about. Little did they know that a spinner whom they had negotiated comfortably throughout the series would come on and turn the match on its head.

It was the third ball of the 47th over of Sri Lanka’s innings. Rashid served up a well-flighted googly on de Silva’s toes. The batsman’s eyes lit up as he tried to flick the ball towards the leg side boundary. However, he was shell-shocked to see Keaton Jennings grabbing that delivery with both hands low to his left at short leg. It was exactly the kind of sharp chance that England needed to grab to break that partnership. And Jennings exactly provided that as he put the finishing touch to a well-cooked up delivery by Rashid.

Karunaratne, along with his new partner Kushal Mendis, negotiated the remaining three overs successfully and thus went to Tea at 183/2. However, the momentum of the match had already started shifting towards England and the game probably swung towards them for the first time on Day 2 when Rashid got rid off Karunaratne as well, right in the first over after Tea.

A well tossed up googly turned inwards sharply, kissed the inside edge of Karunaratne’s willow, went on to the pads and dollied up in the air to land straight into the palms of Jennings again. Both of the set batsmen had returned to the pavilion now and England looked to make most of the opportunity.

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His double strike in quick succession had opened the gates for Ben Stokes to claim the priced wicket of Angelo Mathews too. And Rashid followed up Stokes’ celebration with yet another wicket of Roshen Silva in the very next over. It was the combination of Jennings, Rashid and his googly once again. Silva tried to push the googly towards the leg side but Jennings reacted sharply yet again to claim a left-handed stunner.

A period of quiet five overs followed after that but Stokes opened the floodgates once again as he dismissed Niroshan Dickwella caught behind. Incidentally, Rashid claimed another wicket in the very next over once again. It was a classical leg-spinning delivery this time that sent Mendis back to the pavilion. He pitched it up on a perfect length, invited the batsman to come forward and thus induced the outside edge of his willow. Stokes completed the dismissal with an easy catch at slip.

He didn’t stop there as he affected the run-out of Lakshan Sandakan too. And when the last wicket partnership of Suranga Lakmal and Malinda Pushpakumara was trying to reduce the deficit as much as possible, it was the wily leggie once again who trapped Pushpakumara in leg before in front of the stumps to complete his five-for. His bowling figures of 13.5-2-49-5 thus became the career-best figures and also the best figures for an English spinner since 1959.

His overall bowling average and strike-rate in the series, which read 30.86 and 56.7 respectively after the second Test, now read 22.08 and 40.0 respectively. These figures are now better than both of Ali and Leach’s overall averages—24.92 and 22.08—and strike-rates—42.0 and 48.8—respectively in the series thus far.

It has already been a rollercoaster of a year for Rashid. First, he announced his decision to quit playing red-ball format completely at the beginning of the year. Then he was recalled into the Test side following by English chief selector Ed Smith following the way he accounted for Virat Kohli’s dismissal in the ODI series preceding the Test series against them. His performances have been hot and cold since then. But this performance against Sri Lanka should give him the motivation to take his performance curve only upwards from here on.   

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