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Alan Gardner at Wantage Road
June 8, 2014
Sri Lankans 558 for 8 dec (Thirimanne 156, Silva 152, Dilruwan 59) and 99 for 4 drew with Northamptonshire 345 (Keogh 120, Levi 64)
Sri Lanka will head into the first Test at Lord's generally fortified in their hopes of scalping England at home for the third series in a row and a little wiser about their starting line-up after a gentle workout in one of the quieter corners of the county circuit. Dinesh Chandimal, promoted to open the second innings, managed only a single-figure score but Dimuth Karunaratne's scratchy 38 did not quite cement the batting order. Four wickets for Dhammika Prasad, however, suggested at some clarity in the bowling.
Karunaratne was dropped at slip on 32, slashing hard at David Willey, and then played a delivery from Matthew Spriegel on to his stumps shortly before Sri Lanka called a halt to their batting practice and the game was declared a draw. The decision to send in Chandimal ahead of Kausal Silva, whose 152 on Thursday assured his place for Lord's, suggested at a final opportunity to stake a claim but neither he or Karunaratne managed to build an unequivocal case.
Lahiru Thirimanne, Sri Lanka's Test vice-captain, said afterwards that there were still some decisions to make on the final XI, while indicating he would bat in the middle order rather than return to opening. Neither Thirimanne, who also made a first-innings hundred, or Silva were required to pad up again in the 31 overs the tourists were afforded on the final afternoon, with only Kumar Sangakkara hinting at fluency before holing out short of a half-century.
"Batters had the chance to bat through the innings and the bowlers did well, because it was not a bowling-friendly wicket," Thirimanne said of the match, which became a three-day contest after Saturday was washed out. "Dhammika bowled really well, good areas and he bowled with some good pace. We have some experienced bowlers but we don't have that extra pace."
That Sri Lanka's second innings became a rather desultory affair was down to Northamptonshire's unexpected resistance, as they passed 300 for only the second time this year. Rob Keogh made an impressive century before falling to Prasad, who was more threatening than his seam-bowling colleagues largely thanks to an effectively deployed bouncer. Shaminda Eranga, who did not feature against Northants, is already pencilled in as a member of the Test attack, with Chanaka Welegedara and Nuwan Pradeep seemingly contesting the third seamer spot.
"It's really tough [in England] because this is the early summer and we haven't had that much practice. We'll expect some tough conditions in the Test matches," Thirimanne said. "We have to take 20 wickets to win matches, that's the main thing we have to work on.
"Confidence levels are really high. We haven't had much luck in the past, we want to win a Test series here so that is the main concern. Boys are really confident."
There were a couple of encouraging firsts for Northants, two months into a season that has repeatedly given optimism a cold-water dunking. Keogh reached three figures, the first Northamptonshire batsmen to do so in first-class cricket in 2014; and Willey took his first senior wicket since September, bowling with encouraging pace and swing. He also clubbed 48, including a couple of sixes, before impetuosity got the better of him and he was stumped.
Keogh's landmark was indicative of the club's travails in Division One, as much as his own promise. A broken finger - inflicted by another man who could be playing in the Lord's Test, Liam Plunkett, during pre-season - had ruled him out of the early fixtures but he should have earned himself a run in the first team with this innings, notable for regular appearances of a vengeful cover drive, against an attack with 41 Test caps between them.
Having navigated his way steadily from an overnight 26, Keogh was on 80 when the eighth and ninth wickets fell to Dilruwan Perera. Confident that first-class debutant Chad Barrett had the minerals to hang around, Keogh took his time before opening up with three fours through the off side against Pradeep to bring up the second hundred of his career. Barrett, initially nudging and blocking before becoming emboldened, hung around to help add 64 in little more than 12 overs.
Sri Lanka had already expressed a preference for batting again ahead of the Test series, despite Northants starting the day well adrift of passing the follow-on target of 408. The hosts were not quite as accommodating as they had been in the first half of the match, however, with Keogh gluing together the lower order and 119 runs coming for the loss of just two wickets during the morning session.
Dilruwan bowled an extended spell, tossing the ball up but extracting little turn, while Thirimanne rotated his seamers. Welegedara's left-arm angle of attack appeared to test Keogh the most but he watched the ball well, picking up boundaries driving square of the wicket, to pass fifty in first-class cricket for only the third time.
His stand with Spriegel was worth 86 when Dilruwan made the breakthrough - though it was more like leaning heavily on a partition wall than battering down the front door at Fort Knox. Spriegel had survived the only chance of the first hour when a nick off Prasad skipped low past Prasanna Jayawardene but he eventually fell chipping tamely to mid-on, giving Sri Lanka their first wicket in more than 30 overs.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderickFeeds: Alan Gardner
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