Moeen's grace adorns Lions' wasteful day
England Lions 299 for 9 (Taylor 70, Moeen 62, Prasad 3-66, Kaushal 3-88) v Sri Lanka A
England were hoping to find something a little different from their next generation but the way England Lions carelessly collapsed after tea on the opening day in Pallekele suggested their wider pool of players are capable of the same fallibility as their senior colleagues.
A commanding position at tea was flipped into a slippery situation with the loss of two wickets in two overs. Two more strikes in the half hour after the restart and England's strong standing had been swept from them. It was all very "England".
Moeen Ali played like a dream but slapped the first ball of the evening session - a long hop from left-arm spinner Chaturanga de Silva - to cover. Next over, Jonny Bairstow was given out lbw, fifth ball for nought - he would have looked happier had he been given a parking ticket with a flat tyre in the rain - and Chris Woakes popped up a leading edge to a diving mid-on. A second questionable decision, this time for caught behind, ended James Taylor's stay.
The collapse of 4 for 35 in 12 overs left England just short of 300 with their last pair at the crease when the day ended and Sri Lanka A cock a hoop. Their afternoon performance, where they were almost run ragged as England took tea at 206 for 3, did not warrant such a scoreboard.
They chose to bowl first, a decision far too keen on the grass left on the wicket, and after lunch even their two best operators, offspinner Tharinda Kaushal and seamer Dhammika Prasad, failed to find any control. It was a session when the Lions moved smoothly into a firm position and the slick strokemaking of Moeen was responsible for most of it.
England have observed Moeen for some time and his outstanding season in 2013 - his 1420 runs were the most by anyone in domestic cricket - has proved convincing, with a call up to this tour and selection for the World T20 squad next month.
He plays such beautiful strokes that his place in any side could be assured by the soothing pleasure gained by watching him. He is so relaxed at the crease, standing tall and motionless, bat hanging a foot off the ground, front foot turned slightly towards cover, until the delivery stride where an inch step of the back foot gets him going.
From there he has got all the shots. Plenty were on display in a breezy 62 in 60 balls - the half-century also coming at better than a run-a-ball. He began by flicking Kaushal past midwicket, two straight drives followed off Ishan Jayaratne - an expensive first-change seamer - the second so graceful a turquoise-winged bird felt it necessary to fly over the ball as it crossed the boundary.
It felt unfair that it did not last longer, particularly after a top-edged pull the ball before tea landed short of mid-on, running in. Surely, that was all the luck he needed? Not so, as Upal Tharanga got down low to his right to catch Moeen the ball after tea.
It ended a rollicking period of scoring between Moeen and Taylor, who was hardly noticed in the stand of 92 in 110 balls - just fewer than five an over was the progress throughout the afternoon.
Taylor's style is not as pretty as Moeen, but he also played plenty of strokes pleasing on the eye. He was keen to lean a good way outside of his off stump to drive and used his feet well to the spinners, following Moeen's lead. He appeared within his rights to be aggrieved at being given out when his side were looking to him to take them up to 300. Crisis was averted to an extent with a nudging innings from Scott Borthwick, topped with a lofted drive for six over long-off.
It was certainly a card Sri Lanka A were looking for having decided to bowl first. With grass left on the wicket - locals reliably informed that not a blade would remain for a full international - they went into the field hoping to test their young attack, one of whom, Vishwa Fernando, a left-arm seamer, travelled with the Sri Lanka Test squad to Bangladesh despite having only played 15 first-class matches and with only 37 wickets at 37.62 to his name.
Fernando went wicketless in his 15 overs but his new ball partner, Prasad, was excellent, finding plenty of movement with the new ball and some bounce too, one early delivery rising over Sam Robson's attempted push off the back foot. He probed away persistently but having been replaced, Jayaratne struck immediately when Alex Lees was caught on the crease. Such is life.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo