Sri Lanka get a glimpse of life after Murali
This is Sri Lanka's first overseas Test series without Muttiah Muralitharan since a visit to New Zealand in early 2005, and the big question for them was how to take 20 wickets in a match in the absence of the game's greatest wicket-taker. On Saturday's evidence it doesn't look good for Sri Lankan fans, with no silver linings on a cloudy Cardiff day.
It wasn't just that the only wicket Sri Lanka prised out on the day was that of the injured nightwatchman, James Anderson, but worryingly there weren't even too many half chances. There were no debates over the pros and cons over the use of DRS as they were no referrals, giving third umpire Rod Tucker one of the easier days of his career.
When Sri Lanka were making their way to a satisfactory 400, England bowlers had still posed all sorts of questions. Anderson was getting the ball to nip around, Chris Tremlett troubling the batsmen with his bounce and the crowd got to see some signs of Stuart Broad's petulance on his Test return as a string of appeals were turned down.
There was little of that drama when Sri Lanka's bowlers got the ball. At the toss Tillakaratne Dilshan had said he was expecting the ball to turn late on the second day, or at least from the third day onwards, justifying his decision to bat first, and also the last-minute move to pick two spinners. There was hardly any sign of that on the third day as the trio of Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath and Dilshan himself toiled away although the lack of sun and wear on the surface will have played a part.
There was a half chance when Cook swept Herath into Tharanga Paranavitana at short leg and Dilshan spun one past Cook's outside edge late in the day, but there few other alarms against the spinners. Mendis had complained during his month-long stint with Somerset before this series that he was struggling to grip the ball in weather that was significantly chillier than he was used to He had the long sleeves on to keep out the cold, but that had little effect as his variations were calmly handled.
The three medium-pacers had precious little to be happy about either. With all three quicks being right-armers operating in the early-to-mid 80mph (130kph) range, and reluctant to go round the wicket, there was a sameness to the attack. The pitch had lost some more pace and there wasn't any menacing movement making it all too easy for the in-form England batsmen. Perhaps the inclusion of the left-arm fast bowler Chanaka Welegedara could have posed some questions with the different angle.
By the middle of the final session, with little in terms of a contest between bat and ball on offer, the fancy-dress day crowd began to lose interest. They entertained themselves by flinging a pocket-size rugby ball from one stand to the next, amid much cheering.
There were mitigating factors for Sri Lanka's dismal performance though. Despite the morning rain, and the cloud cover through the day, there was no spice in the Cardiff pitch, easing out into a slow-and-low track where it was difficult to dislodge a set batsman. In Cook and Trott they came up against two who are full of confidence after a run-filled winter, who were suited to the patience game this pitch demanded and weren't given to the extravagant Hollywood shot that could give away their wicket. The injury to Dilhara Fernando robbed the attack of experience, and the injury to Nuwan Pradeep robbed them of their most promising young quick bowler.
It was a tough enough day for Sri Lanka to decide against sending anyone from the squad to face the press at stumps. Dilshan will need to steel himself for more days like this until his new-look attack matures enough to cope with the retirement of the country's three leading wicket-takers. With Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan itching to get their batting summer underway, and England looking to post a massive score, Sunday could well be another difficult day for Sri Lanka's bowlers.