Ford stays upbeat despite tough work-out
The opening match of Sri Lanka's tour of England, against Essex, could hardly be filed under "dream starts" but coach Graham Ford appeared unfazed as his side left Chelmsford with a damp draw.
Having been bowled out by a schoolboy on debut under perfect skies on Sunday, the Sri Lankans took just four Essex wickets in 100 overs (the maximum the game's regulations allowed), as England aspirants and solid county pros alike made hay, before the final day - in which they would have been batting to save the game - was washed out.
To compound their problems, seamer Dhammika Prasad - who so impressed in their series win two years ago - left the field with a shoulder injury on the second afternoon; Sri Lanka later said a scan had proved inconclusive but he would certainly sit out the second warm-up match against Leicestershire starting on Friday.
"There is no doubt that we could have done with the time out there," Ford told ESPNcricinfo. "We are going to require more time to adjust to the conditions. One or two of the batters showed some decent form and, pleasingly, there weren't many soft dismissals, but without question we are going to have to work on how we play the swinging ball. The bowlers needed a bit of a gallop but I felt that, while we didn't start great with the ball, there were patches yesterday where we bowled a hell of a lot better.
"Yesterday was a long day for the bowlers, and I'm sure they will have benefitted from that; time in the legs, having to bowl long spells and hit good areas for sustained periods. We batted on quite a lively wicket on day one, which was a test and some players showed some form on that, then the wicket did get a bit flatter and we had to work quite hard with the ball. That's a pretty reasonable exercise, I'd say."
Ford admitted that selection for the first Test - at Headingley a week on Thursday - is far from ironed out. The two men competing for the No.3 spot - Kusal Mendis (who occupied the position in this match) and Niroshan Dickwella, who batted at No.8 - were the stand-out batsmen, making aggressive and attractive half-centuries on the first day. Lahiru Thirimanne, who would also be in contention for the spot, is recovering from his hamstring injury and could play the second game at Leicester. "He's close," said Ford, "he's done everything the S&C coach and physio want of him, which is a good sign.
"It's too early to be clear on the side," he said. "Mendis and Dickwella, what's exciting there is that they are both showing that they can play and are finding form, which is all you can ask in the early part of a tour. We have a bit of cricket to play, so we shall make decisions on things like who will keep wicket [Dinesh Chandimal and Dickwella both took the gloves at times in this game] closer to the time. That's one of the things that is frustrating about losing that time today."
The game at Grace Road, which begins on Friday, poses selection issues of its own. Among the bowlers, Rangana Herath will return, and Dushmantha Chameera and Suranga Lakmal are also expected to play. "The bowling was much improved yesterday, but the bowlers need to improve our lengths and find some swing, because we know what a weapon that is. We will certainly be looking at one or two other options.
"We have a few questions we need to answer, and at Leicester it's important the batsmen show some real form. There's nothing like time in the middle. We want big scores and we want them at the crease for long periods of time."
Ford seemed more surprised at the stunning weather for the opening day than Tuesday's rain. "I knew we would get some dodgy weather at some stage," he said, "but it's still frustrating. We were lucky on Sunday, but we actually need to be getting used to the cold fingers and hands for when we head to Leeds and Durham. Suddenly we will run into that and the adjustment will have to happen pretty quickly!"
Ford, who coached Surrey as recently as last season, was also unsurprised by the quality of opposition his side faced. "This Essex side is a particularly strong batting unit, but I was massively impressed with young Aaron Beard. Tom Westley made runs against Surrey and I'm well aware of his ability - he's a wonderful talent. Things are looking very good for them here."
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp