England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Cardiff, 1st day May 26, 2011

A damp homecoming for England

A combination of a wet start and a slow pitch meant a tough opening day for England

Andrew Strauss said on the eve of the match that the time for a glorious homecoming had long since past, and sure enough, the start of the first Test since England's Ashes triumph was a spectacular anticlimax, entirely befitting a team whose Sydney celebrations had been curtailed by a hungover coach trip to Canberra.

The most glorious start to an English summer in generations was entirely lost on the weather in Wales, which started revolting, and slowly descended into cruelty, as the morning rain threatened to abate every once in a while, before returning with a vengeance to postpone the start again and again. The toss, when it took place at 2.15pm was a farce, with such a violent squall wafting in after Sri Lanka's correct call that players, presenters and camera crews alike were effectively blown clean off the square, as play was delayed by a further 75 minutes.

In the circumstances, therefore, to chisel 48 overs out of a day that was pushed back by four-and-a-half hours was a pretty impressive effort, as the late evening sunshine did its best to atone for what had gone before. For England's bowlers, however, it was a tough and uncompromising workout, as they encountered on their return to red-ball cricket a pair of batsmen in Tharanga Paranavitana and Tillakaratne Dilshan whose own preparations had involved a double-century partnership against the England Lions in Derby.

As Chris Tremlett and Graeme Swann discovered to their cost in Colombo, Sri Lanka's batsman have a ball-by-ball mentality that translates across formats without a glitch. If there was an assumption that the disciplines of Test cricket would lure them into a rash of loose swipes, a la Umar Akmal and his Pakistan team-mates last summer, it was quashed by the steadfast approach of Paranavitana, whose unbeaten 58 contained 122 dot balls and just six boundaries, five of which were emphatic.

The scalping of two late wickets ensured the day's honours ended more or less even, while the frisson of controversy that existed when Kumar Sangakkara was adjudged caught-behind on review was quickly doused when Dilshan conceded that the edge had been conclusive. All in all, therefore, this first day had the feel of a dress rehearsal, albeit one that left little reason to doubt the stage-presence of either side.

"I thought to be honest we started pretty well, considering that we spent most of the day in the dressing room," said James Anderson, whose seven overs for seven before tea would might well have made dents in the Pakistan top-order last summer, although when you recall just how fragile their batting had been, that is hardly a ringing endorsement. He was waspish and energetic, and clearly refreshed after the travails of the World Cup. But for all three of England's seamers, there was a certain snap still lacking.

"It is sometimes hard to get yourself up for that start time, but I thought we did brilliantly that first hour, and we could have got a couple of wickets," said Anderson. "We beat the bat a few times, but there a few bad balls, one too many in certain periods, and they put them away well. Generally I thought we asked a lot of questions of the batsmen, but they played pretty well, left well, and it will be a hard contest tomorrow and further into the game."

Still, there's only so much to be read into this truncated first-day performance. As expected, the Cardiff wicket tended towards the docile, with Stuart Broad's short-ball attack offering little prospect of reward, despite the aggressive intentions of three slips, a short leg and leg gully. Anderson reckoned there was more life than he'd expected, though having been put to the sword by Australia's 674 for 6 on this surface two years ago, he came into the game with good reason to be pessimistic. "If you bend your back you get something out of the pitch," he said. "It's a good cricket wicket."

A crowd of roughly 6000 turned out to watch the team in their first match of the new season, with one in three of the pre-booked punters deciding it wasn't a day for watching cricket. Better weather is in prospect for the latter stages of the game, so England - and their season - can aim to start again. "The crowd was pretty good considering the weather," said Anderson. "It was a really good support out there, a good atmosphere considering it's cold and wet, so we can't complain."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments