Sri Lanka pacemen vie for Test place
Northamptonshire 146 for 5 (Levi 64) trail Sri Lankans 558 for 8 dec (Thirimanne 156, Silva 152 [ret hurt], Perera 59, Crook 3-98) by 412 runs
The Sri Lankans continued to do much as they pleased against Northamptonshire. The home side, who have a dire first-class batting record this season, having only passed 300 once, stumbled to 146 for 5 in reply to 558 which had been compiled at a merry clip of four an over.
The period where the visitors had the ball was the most instructive of the day despite not being confronted with the strongest of batting orders. There is, perhaps, one seam bowling place up for the grabs in the Sri Lankan Test side so there were plenty of reasons for eagerness between the three pacemen given a chance here.
Nuwan Pradeep, who holds the unflattering Test average of 89.25, bowled with the most eye-catching pace and also found late movement. His delivery to remove Stephen Peters was a beauty, jumping off a length and nipping away to find the outside edge.
His opening partner Chanaka Welegedara has been out of the Test scene for 18 months having suffered a series of injuries but struck with his first legal delivery to inflict the unfortunate start of a golden duck on James Kettleborough's first-class career. Kettleborough's pedigree is decent, however, having beaten Alastair Cook's run-scoring record at Bedford School.
Dhammika Prasad, who would offer greater batting depth, hustled in for a brace, holding a return catch offered by Kyle Coetzer at the third attempt at the ball after being upper cut for six. A short while earlier, Coetzer had been missed at slip on 12 when Kumar Sangakkara moved late.
Prasad then ended Richard Levi's stand-and-deliver innings when the South African helped a shorter ball to deep square-leg. Levi, who holds the record for fastest T20 international hundred, is only with Northamptonshire on a limited-overs contract and he has not played a first XI game of first-class cricket since February 2013. Although there was a one-day style to his display there was also a correctness and such is the club's batting woes they could do worse than considering expanding his deal even though Ian Butler is their current four-day option.
As Northamptonshire's run rate, which hit five an over for the first half of the innings, would attest to, consistency was not the high point of Sri Lanka's bowling. Bringing some thriftiness to the attack is likely to be Nuwan Kulasekara's role at Lord's while Rangana Herath's return will also help, although Dilruwan Perera, the offspinner, had a useful all-round day with a brisk fifty and a tidy 15 overs.
The sight of a 'retired hurt' next to a batsman with century in Sri Lanka's innings may alarm their supporters, but they don't need to worry. Kaushal Silva, unbeaten on 152 overnight, did not resume his innings on the second morning, officially due to a stomach ailment although he was later well enough to field at short leg.
The Sri Lankans gave themselves another three hours of batting against a Northamptonshire attack that was barely first-class standard apart from the wholehearted Steven Crook.
Lahiru Thirimanne built on his hundred to the tune of a career-best 156, overtaking by one run his previous mark which came with his lone Test hundred - 155 against Bangladesh, in Galle, in March 2013. He has not played Test cricket since that series but is surely assured of a slot at Lord's next week.
He eventually fell sweeping against Matthew Spriegel and Dinesh Chandimal, less certain of taking his place in the Test line-up, went the same way as he lost his middle stump. Although Chandimal struck seven boundaries in his 47 a reminder of his difficulty against the short ball came early in his stay when he was caught in a poor position by the military medium of Kyle Coetzer. Not a great prelude to potentially facing Stuart Broad, Chris Jordan and Liam Plunkett.
The remainder of the innings was largely a merry swing for the Sri Lankans. Perera clubbed his way to 59 with the help of four sixes which included two in three balls against the gentle part-time offspin of Rob Keogh. Time in the middle is always valuable, but often it had been a little too easy.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo