The tourists finished Sunday’s play on 339 for nine, still 42 behind Sri Lanka’s first innings of 381. Like the first Test, which England won by seven wickets, Root contributed more than half of the runs with a 19th century.
Though he was unable to do as he did last week by turning number 18 into a double – 228 out of 421 – he left the side in a better place than when he found it: coming to the crease at five for one in the sixth over, which turned to seven for two by the eighth. His run out off the last ball of the day, thanks to some sharp work from Oshada Fernando at bat-pad, was the first error made across 309 deliveries.
Just two other batsmen made it past 30, and only Buttler passed fifty. His 55 was part of a 97-run stand with Root for the fifth wicket. Of England’s runs so far in this series, just under half (49.6 per cent) have been scored by Root.
His method has been simple and sweep-heavy, something Buttler feels the rest of the team can learn from. Not just the likes of openers Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley, who are yet to make it into double figures in six knocks between them.
“It was quite an amazing innings,” said Buttler, after registering an 18th half-century. “To back up his double hundred in the first Test, both physically and mentally, and to show the application, to go and do it again.
“Today (Sunday) it's been a masterclass in batting against spin, and it has been a great education for all of us, watching from the sidelines and we've thoroughly enjoyed watching him and gutted for him to get out in that fashion at the end of the day.”
“I think not just young players but older players and people watching from home can learn a lot from watching Joe Root bat against spin. The dressing room is right behind those guys, it's only a couple of innings and starting against spin is a different proposition. They are putting in an immense amount of work in the nets and it's important those guys continue to trust their game.”
Buttler, usually the one called upon for the outlandish, also admired the array of shots Root pulled off. Including a few switch-hits, manoeuvring his hands to grip the bat like a left-hander, which brought two of Root’s 18 boundaries.
“Yeah, quite amazing shots really! Shows the confidence and the skill level. He even played a little late cut left-handed as well today, it's so great to watch. His skill level is second to none.”
The wicketkeeper’s own hand was another positive. It came to an end with a degree of misfortune: a reverse sweep cannoning off his boot and into the hands of Fernando. Earlier, he had survived a dismissal via a similar method, though was cleared upon video review,
“Disappointing way to get out and obviously I had a close call with one of those earlier on in the innings as well. So, but I enjoyed batting and getting a partnership going with the captain and trying to get us up towards Sri Lanka’s score.”
While a third score of 50 or more in the last five innings - a sequence that includes a 152 – represents a return to form after a difficult start to 2020, Buttler only has three more opportunities to make use of it. After the second innings here at Galle, he will play the first Test of the India series before his red-ball winter comes to an end.
England’s selectors have prescribed rest periods for their multi-format players ahead of a 2021 that features 15 more Test matches after this one, and a Twenty20 World Cup in India later this year. Buttler will return home after the first match in Chennai, leaving the tour on 10 February before returning on 23 February to prepare for three T20s and three one-dayers from 12 March.
The England and Wales Cricket Board have been transparent with players on the matter, which they hope will alleviate the stress of long tours in bio-secure bubbles. Though it was originally mooted Buttler would only miss the last two Tests, he has no qualms with the situation.
“Like most people having discussions with the coaches and the selectors it's been important to try and find gaps for people. The ECB and everyone looking after player welfare in such strange times, with the pandemic and in such a busy time for English cricket this year is important.”