The Cook-Trott duet launches England's summer
If you squinted your eyes, it could almost have been the Gabbatoir. Actually, that's a bare-faced lie. The redeveloped Sophia Gardens may go these days by the shouty monicker of the SWALEC Stadium, but at heart it remains a provincial county venue, with no stand even half as high as the forbidding ring of concrete within which the Ashes were launched last November.
What is more, try as one might, there was no equating the intensity of that Australia campaign to the gentle meandering that took place in Cardiff today, as a rain-soaked series opener drifted past its halfway mark with only an outside prospect of a result being forced by either side. Nevertheless, out in the middle a familiar duet was revisited, as Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott reverted to their factory settings, and ground out a partnership that could have been teleported from Down Under.
It was bloodless and unrelenting, a precise continuation of the method by which Australia were crushed in the winter, and the first sign - after two days of relative struggle with the ball - that England's cricketers are primed and ready for the season ahead. By the close, Cook and Trott's alliance stood at an imposing 240, the highest stand ever made by an England pair against Sri Lanka. And yet, ominously, that figure was not even half the tally of 502 that the two batsmen amassed between their series-changing partnership at Brisbane and their game-breaking reunion in Adelaide.
The pair have had contrasting experiences since they were last at the crease together. Cook has been in stasis, preoccupied with the lambing season on his fiancee's farm in Wiltshire following his omission from the one-day team he now captains; Trott has been in the thick of things as England's World Cup No.3, somehow billed as both star and scapegoat for his uncanny ability to bat without blinking, regardless of venue or context.
"We are very similar in terms of mental approach, and we're quite happy to just bat in fives," said Cook, who has now played a part in 13 of England's last 20 stands of 150 or more in Test cricket - a testament to his extraordinary powers of concentration. "We're both stubborn guys and it suits our style of playing together. We always try to remind ourselves to get five more runs, then another five.
"The pitch was quite stodgy, slow and low. It was hard to score so we got bogged down at certain stages, but I'm pleased with the patience and application I could use to get through those periods, and not play a wild shot. I waited for ball to come into my area."
Rarely has any single England cricketer enjoyed a comparable run of form, let alone two in the same batting line-up. Cook's Ashes tally of 766 runs stole all the plaudits going this winter, but Trott's own haul of 445 at 89.00 was swiftly followed by 422 more at 60.28 at the World Cup, a prolific return that enabled him to match Kevin Pietersen and Viv Richards as the fastest batsman to 1000 ODI runs. His Test average by the close of play was a staggering 66.34, second only to the matchless Bradman, and with no obvious sign of flagging.
Those are some serious numbers, as serious as Cook's return of five centuries in his last ten visits, and his current tally of 17 before the age of 27. England's oft-stated ambition is to become the No. 1 Test team in the world, and though their bowling may have appeared under-cooked in the first innings, with that sort of an engine-room at their disposal, there are plenty reasons to believe that their quest is genuine.
"Trott's been a revelation for us since the Ashes 2009," said Cook. "To bat at No. 3 he's been fantastic and his stats are phenomenal. Just having that rock at 3 means our batting order is very settled. We've got every base covered at the moment, but we'll all continue working hard and never let anything rest."
Aside from a loose piece of running that might have led to a run-out for Thisara Perera, and a firm sweep from Cook that failed to lodge in short leg's hands on 87, neither batsman offered a chance of note. Trott got off the mark with a clip through midwicket for two, and how often this winter has that been his bread-and-butter? Cook dealt, as so often, in cuts through the covers and pokes off the toes, but all of those opportunities were crafted by the quality and certainty of his judgment outside off. He forced Sri Lanka's bowlers to chase him by refusing to flirt at anything in the channel.
Since breaking through the 150-barrier against West Indies in 2009, Cook has reached three figures on eight further occasions and only twice been dismissed for less than 148. "You never master it, but you can improve on it," he said of his new-found appetite. "Before Australia, I was talking to people about it, about how I hadn't gone on to big 150-plus scores - daddy hundreds. But the last couple I have done, and I'm pleased with the method I've used."
There are plenty caveats to be had, of course. Sri Lanka's attack was sadly toothless, neutered by a dead deck and by the clear lack of X-factor in the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga. Rangana Herath, their left-arm spinner, was anonymous, while their trio of seamers found scarcely a semblance of lateral movement. Zaheer Khan and his cohorts are unlikely to offer such meek opposition, just as Pakistan's seamers proved an entirely different proposition last summer.
But as a show of intent, England's batting was mighty impressive nonetheless. It may not have been the Gabba revisited, but then again, expectations have been transformed since that match. Back in November, such titanic feats of scoring were unheard of from an England line-up. Right now they are in danger of becoming commonplace.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo