Sri Lanka got their third tour of England in five years to a rollicking start as they were well in control of the game when the day was called off due to inclement weather.
Skipper Angelo Mathews won the toss and sent the English batsmen to bat first under overcast conditions on a chilly morning at Headingley. Milinda Siriwardana, who had a torrid time with the bat during the warm-up games, was dropped and seam-bowling all-rounder Dasun Shanaka was given his first test cap. Lahiru Thirimanne also found himself back in the playing XI while wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella was benched.
James Vince debuted for England and Steven Finn clinched the third seamer’s spot ahead of Jake Ball. Sri Lankan opening pair Shaminda Eranga and Nuwan Pradeep got Sri Lanka to a decent start landing the ball on a good length and staying disciplined with their impeccable lines. Eranga found some early swing while Pradeep troubled Alastair Cook coming around the wicket.
The vigilant English openers, however, made sure there were no casualties in the first hour of the English season. The openers’ tenacity clubbed with the Lankans’ discipline made sure only 28 runs were scored off the first 15 overs. As the session grew, Sri Lankans became desperate for a breakthrough and Mathews’s attempt to pick up a wicket by bringing himself and Dushmantha Chameera on failed to produce results in the affirmative.
After rummaging through the entire bowling line-up, debutant Dasun Shanaka was thrown the ball, who immediately responded by sending the English captain to the pavilion in only his second over. Throughout the morning, Sri Lankan pacers were happy bowling good length balls, but Dasun Shanaka, who had a wayward start, pitched the ball up and drew the English batsmen forward. Alastair Cook tickled the ball to the keeper going after a full pitched ball. Nick Compton’s stay in the crease was brief as he too succumbed to a juicy full-length ball from Shanaka.
Shanaka’s dream debut didn’t end there as he drew one more blood dismissing the imposing Joe Root with yet another full-length delivery. The seam bowling all-rounder’s success may have also been a result of the disciplined bowling effort of the specialists, which might have forced the English batsmen to look at Shanaka as a get-away option.
England went into lunch at 57 for 3 and when they came back Shaminda Eranga lured the debutant James Vince into a drive making him edge into the hands of the third slip. Ben Stokes tried to be aggressive, but his innings was terminated when he mistimed a drive to mid-on.
Jonny Bairstow then joined hands with opener Alex Hales to launch a rescue effort and the pair was unseparated as the day was called off due to rain. The Sri Lankan bowlers lost focus during the second session as Mathews resorted to the tactic of bowling short at the batsmen. The sudden collapse of discipline was also partly due to the belligerent approach of England’s wicket-keeping batsman.
The right-handed pair was taking the game by the scruff of its neck as Tea was called adding 88 for the 6th wicket. A slight drizzle during the tea break turned coarse resulting in play being abandoned for the day.
Despite the second session seeing a comeback by England, Sri Lanka would be the happier side at the end of the day. Contrary to what has come to pass in the past, Sri Lanka’s slip catching was meticulous and the fielding was generally great, save for a few hiccups.
When the play starts tomorrow, Sri Lanka will have to make sure that the unbeaten pair doesn’t run away with the game, which would render the early hard work of the bowlers useless. Alex Hales, who is unbeaten on 71, has been fighting for his place in the team and might prove to be Sri Lanka’s bane if he decides to switch gears, which he is very much capable of, that too without warning. Bairstow’s bellicose is no more a secret and with Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad to follow, it must be stated that the Sri Lankans have their work cut out tomorrow.
Sri Lanka’s chances of truncating England to a moderate first innings score depends a lot on finding back the discipline that bore fruits in the first session and Angelo Mathews should make sure that he sticks to the basics with his captaincy instead of trying too many things.