England start their quest to retain the Six Nations title against Scotland on Saturday just over three months after they were crowned champions. 

The Red Rose dethroned Wales at the end of October, pipping France on points difference in a dramatic finale to a tournament that ended almost nine months after it started due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Eddie Jones' side are favourites to win the competition again, but Les Bleus are also well fancied to end an 11-year wait for Six Nations glory and face Italy in the first match. 

England do battle with Scotland for the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham, with Wales and Ireland locking horns in Cardiff on Sunday. 

Ahead of the opening round, we preview the upcoming matches with help from Opta.

ITALY v FRANCE

FORM

France have won 19 of their 21 previous Six Nations matches against Italy (L2), including their last seven in a row. Their two defeats in that time both came in Rome, in 2011 and 2013.  

Italy have lost their last 27 Six Nations matches, the longest losing streak in the history of the competition. Their last victory came at Murrayfield against Scotland in 2015, while they have not won at home since 2013. 

Les Bleus achieved a cumulative points difference of +31 in the first 20 minutes of their 2020 Six Nations matches. No other side managed a positive double-digit points difference in that period of matches, but Italy had a -39 difference. 

ONES TO WATCH

France wing Teddy Thomas scored a try in his last Test against Italy and is capable of lighting up the tournament. He can get off to a storming start in Rome.

Paolo Garbisi caught the eye at fly-half last year after being handed his debut against Ireland in October. Hopefully for his country, there is still much more to come from the 20-year-old.

ENGLAND v SCOTLAND

FORM

The last time England hosted Scotland in the Six Nations they drew 38-38 two years ago. Scotland clawed back the biggest ever half-time deficit (-24 pts, 7-31) by a side to avoid defeat in the tournament’s history, almost snatching victory before a late George Ford try denied them. 

Scotland have never beaten England at Twickenham in the Six Nations (D1, L9), their last victory against them the Red Rose at the London venue came in 1983 in the Five Nations (22-12).  

Gregor Townsend's side concluded the 2020 edition by winning their last three games in a row, their best run in the Championship since Italy joined in 2000. 

ONES TO WATCH

England captain Owen Farrell has scored exactly 1,000 Test points, one of just six men to reach that milestone. He is just four points away from reaching a century against Scotland.

Finn Russell returns to the Scotland side and the creativity provided by the fly-half will be key for Townsend's men.

WALES v IRELAND

FORM

Wales have lost their last two home games in the Six Nations, the last time they suffered three consecutive defeats at home was in 2002-03. Wayne Pivac's side have lost their last four games in the competition, their worst streak since 2006-07 (L5).  

No team scored more tries than Ireland in the Six Nations last year (17, along with France), four of those were launched from the back of a scrum. Wales (2) were the only other side to score multiple tries following a scrum.  

Ireland scored seven tries in the final quarter of their fixtures in 2020, more than any other side. Wales, meanwhile, scored the joint-second most in that period (6, level with England). 

ONES TO WATCH

Louis Rees-Zammit turned 20 this week and the Wales wing can celebrate in style with a livewire display at the Principality Stadium.

Ireland centre Garry Ringrose had terrible luck with injuries last year, but he is ready to fire on all cylinders in 2021.

India all-rounder Axar Patel has been ruled out of the opening Test against England, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced on Friday.

Patel, 27, will sit out the first of four Tests after complaining of pain in his left knee following Thursday's training session.

As a result, spinners Shahbaz Nadeem and Rahul Chahar have been added to the squad, with the opening Test due to get underway in Chennai on Friday.

India are coming off a series victory over Australia, where they were depleted due to injuries in the blockbuster showdown.

Virat Kohli's India have managed to win each of their last 10 multi-game bilateral Test series played on home soil, that run beginning after they suffered a 2-1 series defeat at the hands of England in 2012.

No visiting men's Test side have beaten India at M.A. Chidambaram Stadium during the 21st Century (D3 L5) – Pakistan being the last team to do so in the format (1999).

England have managed to record five overseas Test wins in succession ahead of this match - their longest such run since 1914 (seven in a row between 1911 and 1914).

Joe Root is set to become the 15th man to appear in 100 Test matches for England and has the chance to equal Michael Vaughan's record of 26 Test wins as England skipper (currently 25).

Joe Root is used to reaching milestones, but the batsman will bring up a special Test century when he leads England in the series opener against India.  

For Root, the game in Chennai – the first of four in the series – will see him make his 100th Test appearance. He will become just the 15th Englishman to get to the landmark in the format and the 69th overall. 

The fresh-faced 21-year-old who made his debut in India in 2012 is now a fresh-faced 30-year-old considered one of the best in the world, with his memories of that maiden outing still helping to shape the player he is.

"Walking out for the first time in an England shirt would probably be the proudest moment," he said.

"I look back at walking out to bat and seeing Kevin Pietersen at the other end, someone I watched as a teenager and as a kid growing up, and I just couldn't stop smiling. I was living my childhood dream and have been ever since.

"Whenever I'm going through a lean spell or things aren't quite falling for me, I try to look back at that moment and remember what that feeling was like – almost try and embrace that really excitable young lad and bring that into the current situation."

THE HIGHS AND LOWS AHEAD OF A BUSY YEAR 

To say 2021 will be a busy year for Root is an understatement. While not currently part of England's plans in Twenty20 cricket, meaning he seems set to miss out on the World Cup in India in October and November, there is plenty on the Test captain's plate.  

The tour to India will see England play four of their scheduled 17 Tests across the calendar year, a schedule that includes a home series against the same opponents, the visit of ICC Test Championship finalists New Zealand and, after that busy summer, the small matter of an Ashes tour.  

He made an outstanding start with 426 runs on the recent tour of Sri Lanka, helping England secure a 2-0 series sweep that extended their winning streak overseas to five matches, their best run away since 1914.  

Yet Root went into that tour off the back of a below-par year. His top score in 2020 was 68, though he still finished with an average of 42.2, narrowly better than 2018 (41.2) and 2019 (37). The right-hander managed as many three-figure scores in January as he recorded across the previous two years combined.  

If England are to prosper on what will undoubtedly be a long and tough road ahead, Root will need to lead from the front. Captaincy has seen his batting numbers suffer – he averages 45.7 as skipper, compared to 52.8 beforehand – but the signs are some tinkering during time off has allowed him to rediscover his best form at just the right time.

RUNS ON TOUR, FANTASTIC AT FOUR 

India has been a happy destination for Root on previous trips, including hitting 124 in the drawn series opener on the 2016 tour. It was also the country where he made his Test bow, four years earlier. Batting at six, an innings of 73 offered a demonstration of his undoubted skill. 

The Yorkshireman has had plenty of other good moments against India: they are one of five opposing nations he has scored over 1,000 Test runs against. Only Alastair Cook (seven) has managed it against more countries for England.  

Australia is also on that list for Root, who will be hoping to improve on a career average of 38 when he heads Down Under again later this year. His first tour there in 2013-14 was particularly tough, with a run of low scores leading to him being left out of the XI in Sydney. It was a rare low point, while also serving as motivation to make sure it never happened again.  

His 2017-18 tour was more productive, albeit without a three-figure score. Conversion rates are often used as a measurement when comparing the leading names, and Root’s numbers – 19 centuries but 49 scores between 50 and 99 – have been used against him when held up alongside Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson.  

The needs of the team have seen him moved up and down the order, away from his favoured place at four. That position has seen him score 10 of his Test hundreds, while only Kevin Pietersen (6,490) and Denis Compton (4,234) have amassed more runs when occupying that spot for England.  

"I know previous captains have preferred to get out there early and just get amongst it but I quite like to split the two and to really focus on my batting," he said in November 2019 during a tour to New Zealand. "I've found over time that, generally, I've consistently played better in that position."  

The numbers back up his statement; Root has a 52.2 average when listed at four in the batting order. Only at five (69.1) has he done better, albeit with a far smaller sample size.

ENGLAND EXPECTS AND THE PURSUIT OF TENDULKAR 

During his brilliant double hundred in the first Test in Sri Lanka, Root became the seventh Englishman to reach 8,000 runs in the format.   

By the end of the trip, he had moved past Geoffrey Boycott, Pietersen and David Gower on the all-time run-scoring list for his country – and it is unlikely he will have to wait long to overtake two more legendary names.  

Root’s tally after 99 Tests stands at 8,249 runs. Alec Stewart (8,463) and Graham Gooch (8,900) are firmly in his sights, particularly when you consider the number of games to come this year.  

However, Cook is well clear at the top. The opening batsman and former skipper finished with 12,472 runs in 161 appearances. Only four men in the history of the game have managed more, Sachin Tendulkar (15,921 runs in 200 Tests) leading the way.  

Could Root potentially chase Tendulkar down? He is about to hit the halfway point in terms of number of games in the head-to-head comparison, yet is ahead of schedule in terms of output. He has only missed two Test matches since his debut, while a decision at some stage along the line to focus solely on the longest format of the game could extend his Test career even further. 

Such talk of individual records is likely to be of little concern for the man himself, though. Reaching 100 Tests is an impressive achievement for Root, who will hope it is not his last century in the months to come. 

Zak Crawley will miss England's first two Tests against India after suffering a sprained wrist.

The batsman sustained the setback when he slipped outside the dressing room in Chennai on Tuesday.

He will now be sidelined for the opening pair of fixtures as England head into a four-match series with Virat Kohli's side.

"Following the results of last night's scan, England top-order batsman Zak Crawley has been ruled out of the first two Tests of the India versus England series," read Thursday's statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board.

"Scan results have confirmed that Crawley has jarred his right wrist, which has sprained the joint and led to local inflammation.

"The Kent player sustained the injury during England's practice in Chennai on Tuesday when he slipped on the marble floor leaving the dressing rooms onto the field of play.

"The England medical team will continue to assess his progress over the next few weeks."

Crawley opened in Sri Lanka in the absence of Rory Burns but looked set to move to number three at M. A. Chidambaram Stadium after Jonny Bairstow was rested.

England will now have to rethink the order, although there was positive news over Ollie Pope, who has recovered from a shoulder injury and could make his comeback after being added to the squad.

India are favourites to carry on where they left off in Australia and spoil England captain Joe Root's 100th Test in Chennai.

Depleted India defied the odds to come from behind and secure a 2-1 series win in Australia despite being without a host of key players, including captain Virat Kohli.

Kohli returns from paternity leave to lead the side after Ajinkya Rahane filled in superbly in his absence, while Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin have recovered from injuries but Ravindra Jadeja (broken thumb) misses out.

India are in pole position to seal their place in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship final against New Zealand, but England and Australia can also qualify.

In-form skipper Root will become the 15th England player to win a century of Test caps when the four-match series starts at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium on Friday.

Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Rory Burns return, while Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood and Sam Curran have been given a rest following the recent 2-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka.

The tourists could be without Zak Crawley after the batsman injured his right wrist when slipping outside the changing room, but Ollie Pope is poised to make his comeback from a shoulder injury.

England have won just one Test series in India since 1984-85, losing four and drawing one since then other than a triumph in 2012.

 

What are the Test Championship permutations?

The postponement of the series between South Africa and Australia ensured the Black Caps will play in the first Test Championship final.

Kane Williamson's side will face India at Lord's if they beat England 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 or 4-0.

England must win at least three matches in India to set up another final against New Zealand, so Root's men are very much outsiders. 

Australia will qualify if England win the series without winning three matches, while they will also take on their trans-Tasman rivals if the series is drawn or India come out on top 1-0.

 

Centurion Root leading by example 

Root failed to make a hundred for England last year, but the prolific captain showed class is permanent in Sri Lanka.

The 30-year-old made a magnificent 228 in his first innings of the series and struck a brilliant 186 in the second Test, making a strong statement at the start of a hectic year for England.

Root averaged 106.50 as he delivered a masterclass of how to bat against spin and will be relishing the battle with the India attack.

He is just one win away from matching Michael Vaughan's record of 26 Test wins as England skipper and achieving that feat in the Yorkshireman's 100th match would be extra special.

 


KEY MATCH FACTS

- Four of the last five Test series between the two sides have been won by England, who eased to a 4-1 victory when they last did battle in 2018.

- India have won their last 10 multi-game bilateral Test series on home soil, that run beginning after they suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of England in 2012.

- India have recorded five wins to England's three when facing off against each other at M.A. Chidambaram Stadium. India have won three in a row at the Chennai venue.

- No touring side has won at M.A. Chidambaram Stadium during the 21st century (D3 L5) – Pakistan being the last team to do so in the format (1999).

- England are on a run five away Test wins in succession – their longest such run since 1914 (seven in a row between 1911 and 1914).

England batsman Zak Crawley is a doubt for the first Test against India after suffering a wrist injury. 

Crawley slipped outside the dressing room in Chennai on Tuesday and it is feared he may have suffered a fracture just three days before England start a four-match series with Virat Kohli's side. 

He must now wait for scan results to discover the extent of the injury, which he suffered on the eve of his 23rd birthday. 

An England and Wales Cricket Board statement said: "Zak Crawley did not train today at England's practice session in Chennai. 

"He slipped outside the dressing room yesterday (Tuesday) and has injured his right wrist. 

"We are waiting on the results of scans and will know more tomorrow, ahead of our final practice. There is nothing further to add at this stage." 

Crawley opened in Sri Lanka in the absence of Rory Burns, but looked set to move to number three at M. A. Chidambaram Stadium after Jonny Bairstow was rested. 

England will have to rethink the order if he is unavailable, although there was positive news over Ollie Pope, who has recovered from a shoulder injury and could make his comeback after being added to the squad.

Harry Kane paid tribute to "inspirational" Captain Tom Moore after the former British Army officer died at the age of 100.

England skipper Kane was joined by manager Gareth Southgate in remembering the impact the veteran made on the country during the coronavirus crisis.

Southgate said the man who became affectionately known as Captain Tom had "demonstrated the very best of England".

In a fundraising effort, when he was 99 years old, he raised close to £33million for NHS charities by walking 100 laps of his garden.

Kane wrote on Twitter: "Very sad to hear this news as he was an inspirational man who did so much for others. My thoughts are with his family and friends."

Captain Moore was made an honorary colonel to mark his 100th birthday, which was honoured with a Royal Air Force flypast, and he was later knighted by the Queen.

He died in Bedford Hospital with COVID-19 after being admitted on Sunday, having previously been ill with pneumonia.

Southgate said: "Captain Sir Tom Moore demonstrated the very best of England during an extremely difficult time for the nation.

"It is no exaggeration to say he helped bring the country together in a way that few ever could, and he leaves a legacy that will never be forgotten.

"I was especially struck by his dedication to going above and beyond with his personal challenge, his relentless positivity and his good humour."

In a statement issued by the Football Association, Southgate added: "It was a wonderful moment to see him chosen to lead England's Lionhearts squad celebrating 23 individuals who had done so much to help others this past year – one of many deserved honours that came his way.

"He will be missed, but we will remember him."

Premier League champions Liverpool used the words of their famous club anthem to pay tribute, declaring: "An inspiration and a true hero. You'll Never Walk Alone."

Graeme Smith has admitted Cricket South Africa (CSA) was left "extremely disappointed" with the decision taken by Australia to pull out of their upcoming tour.

A three-Test series was scheduled to take place in March, but Cricket Australia (CA) announced on Tuesday that those plans had been shelved due to the public health situation in South Africa amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The country was dealing with over 10,000 positive COVID-19 cases a day at the start of January and while that number has since dropped considerably, there is also a new variant of the virus.

However, having done all possible to appease safety concerns and establish protocols so the tour could take place as planned, CSA director of cricket Smith revealed the frustration at the late cancellation.

"We are extremely disappointed by the decision of CA," former Proteas captain Smith said. "CSA has been working tirelessly in recent weeks to ensure that we meet every single expectation of CA.

"This was set to be the longest tour in a BSE (bio-secure environment) comprising a three-match Test series that was scheduled to begin with Australia's arrival later in the month. So to be informed about the CA decision at the eleventh hour is frustrating."

Dr Shuaib Manjra, chief medical officer for CSA, explained how the organisation had done everything possible during the planning stage, including proposing protocols to their Australian counterparts that were "unprecedented".

The cancellation has ramifications for the inaugural ICC World Test Championship, too. New Zealand are now certain to be playing in the final later this year, where they will go up against either England, India or Australia.

Pholetsi Moseki, acting CEO for CSA, said: "It is indeed sad that after all the engagements and effort made to ensure a secure visit by our Australian counterparts, the tour has been derailed.

"CSA has incurred significant costs related to the planning stages and the cancellation of the tour represents a serious financial loss."

South Africa are currently on tour in Pakistan, with the second of two Tests set to start on Thursday in Rawalpindi.

They will also play a three-match Twenty20 series against their hosts - with all the white-ball fixtures to be staged in Lahore - before returning home in the middle of February.

England boss Gareth Southgate is to take part in a study exploring the links between football and dementia and has urged other former professionals to do the same.

The 50-year-old has volunteered to join the HEADING study, led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

A second independently led study by the University of Nottingham, called FOCUS, is being backed by funding from the Football Association and Professional Footballers' Association.

It is hoped the research can further understanding of possible links between professional footballers and an increased risk of neurodegenerative disorders. Former England international Nobby Stiles had dementia when he died last year, while fellow 1966 World Cup winner Bobby Charlton has the disease.

"This is an incredibly important issue in our game and I'm very happy to play my part in supporting this research," Southgate said via the FA.

"Having turned 50 last year, I am now eligible to take part in the HEADING study, which could provide crucial and valuable insight to help people who play the game now and in the future.

"I would encourage any former professional footballer who is willing and able to take part in the HEADING or the FOCUS study to do so.

"Our involvement is absolutely essential if we are to have a greater understanding of this issue;

Eddie Jones says Joe Marler's decision to withdraw from England's Six Nations squad does not mean his Test career is over.

Marler on Monday revealed he has opted against playing in the upcoming tournament so he can remain with his family during the coronavirus pandemic.

He tweeted: "Always grateful for the opportunity so not an easy decision, but want to do right by my family in these crazy times and won't be meeting up with the squad for this tournament. Look forward to watching the team rip in. Go well."

Marler announced his international retirement in 2018 in order to spend more time with his family but has gone on to take his tally of caps to 72 after reversing that decision.

England head coach Jones said the 30-year-old Harlequins prop, who also made himself unavailable for the tour of Australia in 2016 as he needed a rest, will be considered when he is ready to play for his country again.

"Joe has made a decision that we 100 per cent support," Jones said at the 2021 virtual Six Nations launch.

"When he decides to make himself available again we will have another look at selection. And that's how we look at it - 100 per cent. No ifs or buts, it's as clear as day.

"There will be some time in the future when he's ready to come back and will get selected. We'll take that when it comes.

"Joe has been an outstanding player during my time with England and I'm sure he was outstanding before that.

"He is tough, abrasive, a good defender, a great guy off the field. He's a bit nutty, but we like that, it's good to have characters like that in the squad."

England have also lost Sam Underhill (hip) and Joe Launchbury (fibula stress fracture) for the defence of their title, which they start against Scotland at Twickenham a week on Saturday.

Sam Underhill is the latest player to withdraw from England's Six Nations squad due to a hip injury.

Jack Willis has been called up as a replacement for back-row Underhill, who is another big loss for the defending champions.

Underhill played a big part in England's Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup triumphs last year but sustained an injury blow before he was due to link up with the squad at St. George's Park on Wednesday.

Willis made his Test debut against Georgia last November and will be hoping to make his Six Nations bow in the coming weeks.

Underhill's withdrawal comes a day after Joe Launchbury and Joe Marler were ruled out due to a fibula stress fracture and personal reasons respectively.

England head coach Eddie Jones' preparations had already been disrupted last week when he was forced to go into self-isolation after his assistant Matt Proudfoot tested positive for coronavirus.

The Red Rose start the defence of their title against Scotland at Twickenham a week on Saturday.

Joe Root felt England's calmness under pressure was the key to securing victory in the second Test against Sri Lanka – but insisted there is still room for improvement ahead of the tour to India. 

England trailed after both teams had batted once in Galle, yet four wickets apiece for spinners Dom Bess and Jack Leach helped turn the game their way. 

Sri Lanka rather self-destructed with the bat – something Root revealed the tourists had hoped to bring about by "creating a bit of chaos" - and left their opponents needing just 164 to seal a 2-0 series sweep. 

Dom Sibley anchored the chase, scoring 56 not out having managed only six runs combined in his three previous knocks, while Jos Buttler made an unbeaten 46 to help complete a six-wicket triumph. 

"It was a fine performance in this game. To come out on top having lost the toss on a wicket that, for the majority of the game, we had the worst part of is a testament to the character of the boys," Root said at the post-match presentation ceremony.

"In that second innings, at the back end, it was about dealing with pressure. I thought a number of guys in a very difficult run chase showed a lot of maturity, calmness and poise to see us home. It's a brilliant way to finish the series.

"When we came to bowl, it was about creating a bit of chaos, making it difficult for Sir Lanka to score boundaries.

"We knew if we could build pressure and try and really squeeze the game, we'd create opportunities on that surface. Thankfully, that worked out for us."

He added: "The one thing I'm proud of within our group is how calm we were; how clear we were over how we were going to score runs on that wicket in that chase."

England have little time to bask in their latest success, however, as they head on to India for a four-Test series. For Root, the aim is to keep on progressing during what is a hectic 2021 schedule.

Still, they have won five successive Test matches overseas for the first time since 1914, while they will be boosted by the return of Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes in India. Rory Burns is also available again; the opening batsman missed the Sri Lanka trip to be present for the birth of his first child.

"As a team, we are moving forward all the time. We are on a little bit of an upward curve and we've just got to keep on looking to get better," Root - who scored 426 runs in the series at an average of 106.5 - said.

"With four more Tests to come on this tour for us, it's really important we don't stand still. We are not happy with what we have achieved so far, we will keep looking to improve all the time. 

"There will be different challenges, different surfaces to deal with and situations to manage in the coming games, but can we have that same attitude, that same desire to want to improve all the time."

The England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed on Monday that New Zealand will visit in June, playing Root's side in Tests at Lord's and Edgbaston.

England will also play three Twenty20 fixtures and a trio of one-day games against Sri Lanka. 

England wrapped up an impressive six-wicket victory to complete a series sweep after a dramatic Sri Lanka collapse on day four of the second Test. 

Dom Sibley finished up unbeaten on 56 as he and Jos Buttler (46 not out) saw the tourists to a target of 164, the pair putting on a pivotal stand worth 75 after coming together with their team wobbling in the run chase. 

Lasith Embuldeniya claimed three of the wickets to fall as he finished with match figures of 10-210, but Sri Lanka were left to regret a shoddy batting display that saw them all out for 126 in 35.5 overs. 

England added just five runs in the morning before their first innings was wrapped up at 344, meaning Sri Lanka came out to bat again with a useful lead of 37 on a dry, turning pitch. 

However, Dom Bess and Jack Leach claimed four wickets apiece, aided by some questionable shot choices, as Sri Lanka lost the plot. They were reeling on 78-8 when debutant Ramesh Mendis was caught behind for 16 - the top score for the hosts at the time.

Embuldeniya made 40 - easily a career-best knock in all formats - thanks to six fours and a solitary six, while the more reserved Suranga Lakmal (11 not out) was happy to hang around. Eventually, Joe Root came on to claim the final two wickets in just 11 deliveries, leaving England chasing 164. 

The busy Embuldeniya was soon centre stage again as Sri Lanka chipped away to retain hope, Zak Crawley (13), Jonny Bairstow - who made 28 in a hurry - and Dan Lawrence (2) all falling to the left-arm spinner. 

Mendis claimed the prized wicket of Root, bowled off an inside edge trying to play a paddle sweep for 11, but Sibley and Buttler combined to calm any nerves, seeing their team over the finishing line with ease in the end. 

The victory means England have won five successive overseas Test matches for the first time since 1914 - they will hope to continue that run when they head to India next.

Joe Root treated his England team-mates to an education in how to play spin bowling following his domination of the Sri Lanka attack, says Jos Buttler.

Captain Root backed up his 228 in the first Test victory with a monumental 186 in Galle on Sunday, falling cruelly to a run out from the final ball of the day.

Oshada Fernando's quick thinking at short leg meant England closed day three on 339-9 - a first-innings deficit of 42.

Despite that giving Sri Lanka a slight edge in their bid to secure a series-levelling win, attention afterwards understandably focused upon Root, who passed Geoffrey Boycott, Kevin Pietersen and David Gower to go fourth on England's all-time list of Test run scorers over the course of a fabulous knock.

"It was quite an amazing innings," Buttler said. "To back up his double hundred in the first Test, to show the mental and physical application to go again.

"It's been a masterclass in batting against spin. It's been a great education for all of us watching from the sidelines.

"We've thoroughly enjoyed watching him and we're gutted for him getting out in that fashion at the end of the day."

Buttler, who was the only other England batsman to pass 50, shared a 97-run stand with Root for the fifth wicket and also marvelled at his skipper's powers of endurance.

The 30-year-old Root motored on during the evening session despite cramps and back pain demonstrating the toll taken.

"For all eight days of the series so far he's been out on the field," Buttler said. "This game feels a lot hotter and lot more draining than the first game, [which had] rain breaks.

"We have to praise not only the tactical and technical aspect of his game, but the physicality and concentration to apply himself for so long.

"Once again, to back up the first Test is quite amazing really."

Lasith Embuldeniya carried the fight for Sri Lanka with superb figures of 7-132, but even the in-form slow left-armer could not escape punishment from Root, who swept with authority and even unfurled an audacious switch hit to fine effect.

"There were some quite amazing shots, really," added Buttler, who is consistently England's most innovative strokemaker across all formats. "It show the confidence and the skill level is amazing.

"He even played a little late cut left-handed. It's been great to watch. His skill level is second to none."

England captain Joe Root was denied a second consecutive double century when he was run out for 186 from the final ball of day three in a gripping second Test against Sri Lanka.

The great Wally Hammond remains the only Englishman in history to have passed 200 in consecutive matches, although Root looked certain to join him as he took the fight to the hosts in majestic fashion

Root is now fourth in England's list of all-time Test runs scorers, having surpassed Geoffrey Boycott, Kevin Pietersen and David Gower over the course of a truly magnificent knock, which accounts for the bulk of England's 339-9 – a first-innings deficit of 42.

Before Oshada Fernando collected sharply at short leg to catch the visiting skipper out of his ground, this was another England innings that pitted two supreme performers at the top of their game against one another, with Sri Lanka left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya taking 7-132 in a near lone response to Root's brilliance.

Embuldeniya's wide angle on the crease and ability to find biting turn accounted for openers Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley on day two, and he saw off Jonny Bairstow and Dan Lawrence in similar fashion on Sunday.

Bairstow could only add four to his overnight 24 after a review showed a faint inside edge onto pad that was pouched by Oshada, while Lawrence nicked a beauty to Lahiru Thirimanne at first slip.

Root's immaculate sweep shot meant he was able to largely avoid such problems, even punishing the excellent Embuldeniya with his audacious switch hit.

Substantial support for the captain finally arrived in the form of Jos Buttler, whose crunching off-side drive and reverse sweep were in good order during a fifth-wicket partnership of 97.

Somewhat unfortunately, the latter shot would prove Buttler's downfall after lunch when, on 55, he struck a delivery from debutant Ramesh Mendis (1-48) into his boot and it looped up for the ever-alert Osada to catch.

The Thirimanne-Embuldeniya combination accounted for Sam Curran, Dom Bess and Mark Wood, although Bess played tidily for an important 32 in a stand of 81 as Root motored on despite beginning to struggle with cramps and back pain.

It was a monumental effort over the course of 309 deliveries that did not deserve its cruel sting in the tail.

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