England's Keaton Jennings plays a shot during the first Test match between England and Sri Lanka at Galle on November 8, 2018. (Reuters)
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GALLE, Sri Lanka - Opener Keaton Jennings ended his two-year wait for a second test century with a career-best 146 not out as England inched towards a comprehensive victory in the opening test against Sri Lanka on Thursday.
Having taken a handy 139-run first-innings lead, England declared their second innings on 322 for six to set Sri Lanka an improbable 462-run victory target.
The hosts ended day three on 15 for no loss, 447 behind and staring at a crushing defeat inside four days in spinner Rangana Herath’s farewell test.
Openers Dimuth Karunaratne (seven) and Kaushal Silva (eight) survived seven overs but Sri Lanka will need a near miracle to save the test.
Earlier, the tourists resumed on 38-0 and their openers consolidated their position until they suffered a mini-collapse.
Debutant Rory Burns’ (23) foolhardy pursuit of a non-existent single culminated in his run-out and Moeen Ali could not justify his promotion to number three for the second time in the match, following up his first-innings golden duck with three.
England captain Joe Root (three) also had a deja vu moment when Herath dismissed him for the second time in the match.
Jennings, however, looked confident against the spinners, often playing the sweep shot — both traditional and reverse — to negate them.
Ben Stokes, Jennings’ partner in their 107-run fourth-wicket partnership, shrugged off his early tentativeness to clobber three sixes in his 62 before Dilruwan Perara spun one past his bat to hit the top of the off-stump with a beautiful delivery.
Jennings, who hit a hundred in his debut test against India in 2016, took a single off Dhananjaya de Silva to end his century drought.
The 26-year-old pumped air while running before taking his helmet off and raising his bat in celebration.
The left-hander’s patient 280-ball knock included nine fours as he demonstrated to his teammates how to play spin in the sub-continent.
Jos Buttler made 35 and England’s first-innings hero Ben Foakes contributed 37 before Root decided to give his bowler a go at the Sri Lankan openers in fading light.
Herath claimed three wickets in his 93rd and final test at the same venue where the 40-year-old left-arm spinner made his debut against Australia in 1999. (Reuters)