England in charge as rain brings early finish at Old Trafford
On a day that finished early because of rain and bad light, England had made hay while the clouds rolled by earlier in the day to lay the foundations for another very healthy total after winning the toss. Whether they can top five hundred as they have in their last two innings against Sri Lanka remains to be seen, but their overall dominance of the attack suggests that it is not out of the question.
It was a good toss to win from the outset, with Nasser Hussain having no hesitation in batting first. The decision was made to look even better when Eric Upashantha encountered the first set of problems on what was to become a progressively more difficult day that only improved when he bowled with a wet ball late in the day.
Only a short distance to the west stands another Old Trafford where, in recent memory, the fans would often chant the name of Eric. However, Cantona could scarcely have suffered such a miserable day on the football field as Upashantha endured here. He bowled five no balls in his first spell of four overs and was taken off having conceded 24 from his four overs. Having said that, Muttiah Muralitharan fared little, if any, better. His first spell was of three overs that cost 22 runs.
Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan were feasting on a glut of half volleys and long hops. Vaughan in particular was striking the ball cleanly but yet another innings full of immense promise was cut short when he was deceived by a slower ball from Dilhara Fernando who was the pick of the Sri Lankan attack with his pace and bounce. Vaughan simply chipped his intended push through the covers to Chaminda Vaas at mid-off.
Trescothick and Mark Butcher proceeded to share a partnership that was to realise 126 runs in 35 overs. Both were batting with style and Butcher launched into the return of Upashantha by taking three more boundaries off his next one-over spell.
The only alarms they experienced came when Trescothick was dropped twice in the space of two balls from Fernando. He failed to get on top of a cut to send a stinging chance towards Hashan Tillakeratne at backward point that the fielder parried but could not catch, even at the second attempt as it fell behind him. Next ball, Trescothick top-edged a hook that went in a gentle arc toward backward square. Fernando had to abort his premature celebrations when the luckless Upashantha spilled the sort of chance that most club cricketers would snaffle. There is no truth in the rumour that he put his head in his hands - and dropped that as well.
Trescothick added 17 to his total after those escapes before he pushed forward to Muralitharan and edged to Mahela Jayawardene at slip very low down. He had gathered 14 boundaries in his 152-ball innings and undoubtedly had his eyes set on a century.
Hussain came in and immediately tried to impose himself on the bowling. He has been in princely form of late, but whether it was prudent to set off at such a tempo was a matter for him to determine. Having charged Muralitharan, making more use of his pad than bat, he then tucked in to the last over before tea from Fernando to help himself to three fours and a two. Fernando had been warned for running onto the pitch earlier, and while concentrating on going wide, dropped the ball horribly short.
It was the bowler who retained the initiative, though, when he drew Hussain into an expansive drive after tea, only for the England captain to find that it was another well-disguised slower ball that he reached outside off-stump to play with his weight back on one knee and head in the air. That position would have allowed him to follow the trajectory of the ball to mid-off where Muralitharan took the catch.
The first of two all-Surrey partnerships saw Graham Thorpe join Butcher. They were together when the players left the field during the start of the first rain break, but not for long when play resumed. It was still gloomy and the rain must have eased only marginally, but in these difficult conditions Upashantha suddenly found the control he had been so elusive earlier. Thorpe made contact with a feint inside edge to the 'keeper and the bowler's relief and joy was totally understandable.
He could have had another wicket when the new batsman, Alec Stewart, slashed at a short ball outside the off stump to see a flying effort from Jayawardene at backward point go down, and Stewart stayed with Butcher until the rain returned again to send the players from the field for the last time. Equalling the England appearance record in this match, Stewart will want to make an impression on a favourite ground, while Butcher, who just missed out on a century at Edgbaston, will not want to do so here. There is no reason why he should not go on well past three figures.