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Buttler, Stokes shine with England six scalps away from a sweep

SL v ENG, 3rd Test, Day 3, Report

Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes were the stars with the bat as England galloped to set Sri Lanka a target of 327 on Day 3 of the third Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo. At stumps, the hosts are in a spot of bother at 53/4 in the fourth innings.

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Danushka Gunathilaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dimuth Karunaratne and Angelo Mathews are already back in the hut, with Sri Lanka in a world of trouble in their attempt to salvage pride in the final Test of the series. The hosts are 274 runs adrift of their target at the end of the day's play. 

England started the day at 3/0 with a 99-run lead over the hosts. However, they had a tough morning, as Dilruwan Perera claimed three quick scalps to send the openers – Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings – as well as Jonny Bairstow, the centurion of the first innings, back to the pavilion. 

Malinda Pushpakumara chipped in as well, dismissing the English skipper Joe Root for seven. 

The visitors were in a precarious position at 39/4 and were staring down the barrel of a batting collapse. However, Stokes and Buttler collaborated to take the attack to the opposition and stitched a vital 89-run partnership for the fifth wicket. 

Both the batsmen took a counterattacking approach to negotiate the situation and were successful in getting their team out of a muddle with their aggressive batting display. Their strong performance ensured that the visitors did not lose any further wickets in the first session.

Stokes, who scored a 63-ball 42, was ultimately dismissed by Perera, who came to Sri Lanka's rescue once again after lunch. Buttler, who had danced down the track to spin bowlers to negate them successfully throughout his innings, was finally stumped while trying to come down the wicket to flick a delivery from Sandakan.

The spinner would have been relieved to claim the scalp of Stokes, who was reprieved twice in the morning session. Sandakan had the left-hander first caught at cover and then at the slips, only for the decisions to be overturned after the big screen showed that he had overstepped on both the occassions. 

The left-arm bowler did not miss his third opportunity, though. He saw the batsman leave his crease and decided to bowl it down the leg side. 

Buttler fell for a well-made 64 off 79 deliveries – an extremely vital knock in the context of the game. Important lower order contributions came from Moeen Ali, Ben Foakes, and Adil Rashid who made 22, 36* and 24 respectively.

Foakes, who added 44 runs with Rashid for the eighth wicket, was particularly impressive with the bat. The wicket-keeper batted expertly with the lower-order, taking England's total past 200 with some important partnerships in the final chunk of the innings.

The visitors eventually folded for 230 all out, after Pushpakumara and Perera cleaned up the tail. Perera also notched up his eighth five-wicket haul in Test cricket as he dismissed Jack Leach, who was the final England wicket to fall on the day.  

Sri Lanka, who had to bat for 17 overs in the final session, were troubled by a disciplined bowling display from the visitors. Both the openers fell to the off-spin of Moeen before Dhananjaya de Silva was trapped LBW by Leach.

Matthews was the last Sri Lankan scalp, as he was caught by Stuart Broad off Stokes in the final minutes of the day's action. A lot lies on the shoulders of Kusal Mendis, who will take guard unbeaten on 15 on the fourth morning. He has Sandakan as his partner, who was sent in as a night-watchman. 

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