England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Cardiff, 2nd day May 27, 2011

Prasanna shows his mettle

ESPNcricinfo staff
The onus was on Prasanna Jayawardene to justify his position at No. 6 coming into this match, and his calm hundred did just that

Prasanna Jayawardene was perhaps the Sri Lankan with the most to worry about ahead of the England Tests, but those concerns were put to rest with a crisp century in Cardiff on the more illustrious Jayawardene's birthday.

The specialist batting slots in the side are set in stone, while the bowling has a revolving-door feel, which allows players an opportunity to return even if they botch it in a match or two. The Sri Lankan wicketkeeper-batsman position, though, has four candidates in the squad, including a former captain and two young up-and-comers.

With the team needing to play five specialist bowlers in the absence of the batsman-confounding genius of Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga, and Kumar Sangakkara having given up the captaincy, some argued Sangakkara should take up the gloves in the interest of the team balance, allowing another specialist batsman to be selected at No. 6.

On first sight Prasanna seems to have made a compelling case for batting that high in the order: he is widely considered the best gloveman in the country, and he amassed 736 runs to lead his domestic side Bloomfield to the title in the first-class tournament. The trouble for the 31-year-old Prasanna is that two of the other contenders, Dinesh Chandimal and Kaushal Silva, both at least six years younger than him, scored even more. Chandimal, in particular, has been talked up as a star in the making for at least a year now.

Add to that, three single-digit scores in the two warm-up matches, and he surely must have felt insecure about his place coming into the series. Not so, he says. "I love handling pressure, I don't why everybody says I'm under pressure because I have proved myself every time I have had a chance in Test matches." And he has too - averaging an astonishing 53.70 over his past ten Tests, certainly enough to qualify for that No. 6 place.

"This is a new challenge I've had, I normally bat at No. 7," he said. "This time for team balance I have to play at No. 6, all the team management trusted me, I think I proved myself."

Still, when he walked in at 159 for 4 on a sunny Cardiff day, the wisdom of playing five full-time bowlers was getting tested for the first time. Mahela Jayawardene failing to continue his series-opening centuries in England had left the home side relishing the prospect of getting into the long Lankan tail early on the second day.

The first signs that may not come to pass were when Prasanna scored his first runs through a classy punch between the bowler and mid-on. A couple of streaky fours followed - outside edges to the third man boundary which increased Stuart Broad's frustration - before a lazy fielding attempt from Kevin Pietersen gave him four more.

That pushed him along to 20, and with Graeme Swann and Jonathan Trott operating either side of lunch, he had time to settle in before facing the challenge of the second new ball. Though he scored at a brisk pace, it wasn't an innings studded with eye-catching strokes, barring some emphatic sweeps against Swann, and a powerful pull off Trott . It was more about nurdling the ball around into the gaps, the placement allowing him to pick up plenty of twos and threes.

It was one of those threes that brought up his century, only the second Sri Lankan wicketkeeper to post a hundred in the United Kingdom, after Amal Silva more than two decades ago. The normally undemonstrative Prasanna cherished the milestone, not content with just the wave of the bat to the crowd but following it up by facing the dressing room and repeatedly pumping his fist on his chest. "I have toured England before, but I never got a chance to play a Test," he said. "This was my first time, and I'm really happy to get a hundred in my first innings."

Dilshan had said after winning the toss that Sri Lanka would be satisfied with a total in the range of 350-400. By the time Prasanna was dismissed, Sri Lanka had moved along to 397 and the series of doughty partnerships that he had put together had thwarted the home side for most of the day. Broad bravely talked about reprising what Australia did in the only other Test in Cardiff ("bat once and bat big") but Sri Lanka are the happier side two days into the series. And the most content of them will be Prasanna.