Warnapura reasserts family name
England Lions 319 (Taylor 70, Prasad 4-68) and 330 for 8 dec. (Woakes 92*) beat Sri Lanka A 171 (Woakes 4-45) and 311 (Warnapura 108) by 167 runs
Madawa Warnapura, the son of Sri Lanka's first Test captain Bandula Warnapura, reminded England of the family name they had first encountered more than 30 years ago with a stubborn century on a lifeless wicket which delayed the Lions' victory until the stroke of tea on the final day.
Warnapura's leaping celebration on reaching a fifth first-class century was richly deserved. He batted for six hours and resisted England's persistent seamers and the probing spin of Moeen Ali, who now leaves the tour ahead of England's trip to the West Indies.
Having looked well beaten at two points in the game, it was a spirited response from the hosts to hold up the Lions for as long as they did. It demonstrated what opposition they can offer in this series, particularly if they can bat through the new ball.
Warnapura has a double century to his name among his four other hundreds, evidence of his appetite for occupying the crease. The innings from Chatarunga de Silva and Dhammika Prasad in the first innings were largely dashing affairs but Warnapura lasted nearly double the deliveries of those two innings combined.
The capacity for a batsman to play a long innings was greater on the final day where the pitch lost its life and had not deteriorated sufficiently to offer any uneven bounce or significant turn. There was the odd dangerous delivery from Moeen, one of which turned and bounced to beat Warnapura's inside edge, the stumps, and Jonny Bairstow, but little of major alarm.
Nevertheless, Warnapura outstayed his colleagues and provided some encouragement for Sri Lanka A's top order who were blown away twice here - 61 for 7 in the first innings and 55 for 4 in the second. Finding a way past the 20-over mark in healthy shape is their key to asking the Lions more meaningful questions.
But they were not steamrollered here and during a stand of 131 for the eighth wicket, Warnapura and Roshen Silva were reviving memories of England's A tour to Sri Lanka in 1991 where a century stand for the ninth wicket on the final day salvaged a draw in Colombo.
This time there was no escape but England's seamers were pushed into third and fourth spells to find a breakthrough. Liam Plunkett, who has enjoyed a renaissance since moving to Yorkshire, finally forced the breach. Firstly, he sent a delivery into Warnapura's ribs which he leapt inside to allow it to pass down leg. The next was very full; Warnapura dug it out. The third reared up at the throat and the batsman gloved it through to Bairstow. It was high-class bowling and Plunkett deserved to finish the match shortly after for his third wicket.
Plunkett also executed a superb run out from cover for England's opening wicket of the day. Madawa pushed Graham Onions into the covers and rightly refused a single that Ishan Jayaratne was keen for. Plunkett dashed to his left, picked up with one-hand, turned 180 degrees and threw down the bowler's stumps.
Dhammika Prasad, the second-most experienced player in the Sri Lanka A XI with a first-class century to his name and 25 international caps, also fell before lunch for only 10, fending off a sharp ball at the ribs from Tymal Mills into James Taylor's midriff at short leg. But Warnapura found Silva a sound partner and the pair settled well to make England sweat.
Warnapura had the new ball to contend with as he moved in sight of his century. Onions overpitched on the stumps and Warnapura flicked it through midwicket, scuttling back for a third to bring up a battling hundred, springing over the crease in celebration of three sessions work well rewarded.
It delayed England's poolside cocktail but Chris Woakes can sup away contentedly after his side's performance. He led from the front, too, with an important third-day knock and six wickets in the match; his 17 second-innings overs only went for 27 runs.
"They've made us work fairly hard all four days," Woakes said. "Especially today that partnership seven down was good for them and they played really well. I don't think we did much wrong, we stuck to our plans but they played well on a flat pitch, credit to them, and it took some great bowling by Liam Plunkett to make that crucial breakthrough. We did really well to get twenty wickets in the game."
Coach Mark Robinson highlighted the achievement: "We thought we had them by the throat on numerous occasions but they wouldn't roll over and die. There are not many teams that come to Asia and win so we're very proud. It's been a hard-fought game.
"I think it's too easy to use the amount of caps that have been won or how poorly they played against the new ball. They fought hard, their strength is their spin and the use of the conditions and ours is our seam, so it's a right tussle to see who's going to come out on top."
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo