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

Paranavitana shows he's at home, away

Tharanga Paranavitana is the most unheralded of Sri Lanka's top order but showed his value on the opening day of the series

Much of the talk surrounding Sri Lanka leading up to this series has been about the amount of change the country's cricket has undergone since the World Cup. But there was little change in the weather from when they last played Test cricket as the rain that dogged their home series, against West Indies, made an appearance in chilly Cardiff to wipe out half the day's play.

There was continuity in the personnel as well. The XI they chose for the first Test had nine players from their previous five-day game, and would have been ten if it hadn't been for a knee injury to Dilhara Fernando earlier in the week. Only five players in the Sri Lankan side, though, are guaranteed starters - the top five - and Tillakaratne Dilshan's decision to bat under cloudy skies in early summer against the potent England pace attack was a challenge for them.

It was the junior figure of that unit, Tharanga Paranavitana, who helped Sri Lanka go against their reputation of being slow starters in England, and left Dilshan little reason to regret his bold choice in his first Test as captain. Unlike the other specialist batsmen, he doesn't have the 50-plus average or a Test century count in the double digits, but in his first Test outside the subcontinent he showed he can cut it on a track which had some inconsistent bounce to assist the tall England seamers.

An organised batsman who looks at home on the back foot, he was rarely flustered even though, as James Anderson admitted, the pitch had more life than the England bowlers expected. With the ball jagging around early on, he was happy to be the traditional Test-match opener - serenely leaving deliveries outside off to blunt the bowling. Even when his favourite scoring area around backward point was blocked off by two gullies, there was no impatience.

The confidence gained from centuries in each of the warm-up matches was evident during his innings. When he was beaten by a length ball from Stuart Broad that moved away he wasn't discomforted by it. Instead he just tapped the spot where the ball landed and smiled, before reverting to resolute defence off the next delivery.

Sri Lanka had weathered the early troubles, with Paranavitana and Dilshan putting on their country's largest opening stand in the United Kingdom. As usual, Dilshan was dominating the stand and was starting to bring out some of his more adventurous strokes after tea, and despite some shaky moments marked his Test captaincy debut with a half-century. There was just a perfunctory wave to mark the milestone, though that composure disappeared later in the over when he looked to powerfully cut a delivery from Graeme Swann that was too full.

"Overall I am really happy with 130 for 2," Dilshan said. "I just got past the hard period, it's not easy getting in on this wicket. After getting 50 I played a really bad shot and I'm disappointed I got out."

Paranavitana avoided such misjudgment himself, bringing up his half-century late in the day with a controlled cut off Chris Tremlett. He calmly played out the final over of the day to finish unbeaten on 58.

He has plenty more to do yet - not just because Sri Lanka don't have the insurance of Angelo Mathews batting at No. 6 but because of the criticism he faced early in his career of being a batsman who got starts but couldn't make the big scores. He addressed that partially on some batting beauties against an injury-ridden Indian bowling last season, but hasn't shaken off that reputation completely. A big score in English conditions, against a top-class attack, will convince the remaining naysayers as well.

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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