England v Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, The Oval May 22, 2014

Only the start of the short stuff

Sri Lanka's bowlers had propelled their World T20 campaign, often bailing out lacklustre batting displays, but when the bowlers had a bad evening in London, the batsmen could not reciprocate

When Graham Ford departed from his role with Sri Lanka, and Paul Farbrace arrived in late January, both coaches issued identical appraisals of the team's chances in the two upcoming global tournaments.

"They have a terrific opportunity to win the World T20 in Bangladesh," Ford said, "there's no doubt about that." But both men were a little less hopeful about the World Cup. "We're not quite there yet," Farbrace had said. "There are some key things to develop, and the England series should give us a fair indication where we are at as a side."

As Sri Lanka faltered for the first time in 11 ODIs, at The Oval, many of their shortcomings on quicker, bouncier conditions were made plain. Sri Lanka's bowlers had propelled their World T20 campaign, often bailing out lacklustre batting displays, but when the bowlers had a bad evening in London, the batsmen could not reciprocate.

Lahiru Thirimanne got late-swinging delivery early in his innings, but several other batsmen failed to account for the bounce and movement typical in England, and surely forthcoming in Australia and New Zealand as well.

Tillakaratne Dilshan failed to put away short balls at his body, early in the innings, piling pressure on himself to explode, as the run rate climbed. He is often a consummate player of the pull - a stroke he executes with typical homespun swagger - but has recently struggled with it on faster surfaces. In the end, it would be a slash through the offside that undid him, as he underestimated the bounce Chris Jordan's hit-the-deck pace would achieve.

Before Dilshan departed, a leaden-footed Kumar Sangakkara had played Harry Gurney on, when the bowler nipped one back. It is unlike Sangakkara to have footwork out of order, but Sri Lanka could do themselves much good if they arrive at the Tests on the back of a big ODI series win. If the visitors are to keep England's spirits low, even uncharacteristic mistakes may have to be omitted by the senior players, who have considerable experience in similar conditions.

Dinesh Chandimal was targeted with the short ball in the T20 match as well, and here departed to it, heaving forcefully at Jordan, to offer thin top-edge to the keeper. The previous ball had been a bouncer, which Chandimal had hooked at and missed - further suggestion that England will persist with this plan to him.

He has flourished in England before, but this uncertainty against the short ball was unearthed by Pakistan in the Test series in January, when Junaid Khan had him caught at fine leg in successive innings. Interestingly, Farbrace, then about to take Sri Lanka's reins, had been in the stands on the second occasion. However England came by their mode of attack, it is out in the open now. Chandimal was already under significant scrutiny when he arrived in this series, and will now be watched even closer, while Ashan Priyanjan awaits his turn in the middle order.

The requirement was too steep even for Angelo Mathews, who lately has grown as a finisher. Perhaps more intent at the top of the innings would have eased the middle-order's burden, and to that end, Kusal Perera may be reconsidered for the coming matches. Kusal has been notoriously inconsistent, but few young Sri Lanka batsmen sustain excellence in the first years of their careers. What is more, when he delivers a good knocks, he leaves the side well in control of the innings.

If he is to come in at opener, he will displace Thirimanne, but perhaps that creates an opportunity of its own. Sri Lanka's batting concentrates its experience in the top four, but if Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were to move down to Nos. 4 and 5 respectively, Thirimanne could remain in the top three where he prefers, and the unit becomes more balanced overall. Jayawardene has long been the most versatile ODI batsman Sri Lanka have, and a lower position may free him to play the finishing innings he has often provided. Sangakkara, meanwhile, has now acquired the aptitude for sustained aggression that might make him a good No.4.

The bowlers' quality and track record suggests they will recover quickly from a poor outing. But if Sri Lanka's tour, and their World Cup preparations, are to go to plan, the batsmen would do well to give their team-mates more cover than they did on Thursday.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

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