England v Sri Lanka, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 1st day June 12, 2014

Sri Lanka wilt in whites

Sri Lanka arrived at Lord's on the cloud of confidence their limited-overs cricket has generated, but on a tour in which they have sometimes felt besieged they failed to press home an early advantage on the sport's most celebrated stage

At the tail-end of 2012, Sri Lanka's last marquee Test became one of their lowest points in their professional era. On a springy but manageable Melbourne deck, the batsmen collapsed twice, fielders shelled simple chances, and bowlers surrendered easy runs.

At the end of the debacle, Sri Lanka's coach spoke of how the team had perhaps imploded under the pressure they had loaded on themselves. That match had been the cricketing equivalent of going to the biggest job interview of your life, only to race manically around the room, having somehow set your own pants on fire.

Eighteen months on, Sri Lanka arrived at Lord's on the cloud of confidence their limited-overs cricket has generated. They have only played one full tour against a top-eight side in the interim, but on a tour in which they have sometimes felt besieged, Sri Lanka yearned to prove themselves on the sport's most celebrated stage.

They have been the boys who excel in blue for some time, but here, with a full-house 28,000 strong in attendance, they might have been the men who shone in white as well.

The first three hours had been so promising. Nuwan Pradeep - the catalyst of Sri Lanka's best win of the year in Dubai - had the ball swerving sharp and late, while Nuwan Kulasekara boarded up one end, pitching the ball on the straight and moving it down the slope. That mix of security and venom lured a muddled innings from Alastair Cook and loose strokes from Sam Robson and Gary Ballance.

There was energy in the field and vocal support for the men in the ring. At one stage, Kulasekara, who rarely clocks in at over 130kph, had four slips and a gully. Ambitious though the plan was, it suggested a brimming over of belief; a team riding on momentum, feeding off good vibes. In Melbourne, Sri Lanka had meandered listlessly, but here was heartening direction: clear plans, and fleshed out lines of attack.

But how quickly bad habits can return. In Australia, Sri Lanka had allowed the opposition to beat them back again and again whenever they threatened an advance, and at Lord's a swift partnership between debutant Moeen Ali and embattled Joe Root stole the visitors' initiative. Rangana Herath toiled on an unresponsive surface, but as the sun beat down on the quickly-browning pitch, the fast men wilted around him. It didn't help that the surface flattened quicker than Sri Lanka had anticipated at the toss.

"We thought the pitch would have more bounce and pace than it did," Kaushal Silva said. "But maybe at the latter part of the day it got slower. Sometimes the odd ball was keeping low as well. Hopefully, tomorrow morning, with the new ball in our hand, we can do something."

Angelo Mathews' decision to bowl first with blue sky overhead raised English eyebrows early on, but it was an understandable, given the top order's history. Sri Lanka coped with the moving ball in the ODIs, thanks in part to Tillakaratne Dilshan's circumspection, but those skills have sometimes diminished when a red ball series arrives. Even at home, Sri Lanka have collapsed against good swing bowling. Knowing his attack is doughty rather than indomitable, Mathews had perhaps reasoned the zip in the pitch represented Sri Lanka's only chance of achieving a definitive edge with the ball.

"When you have the advantage of a green pitch, you should take that. We have three quality fast bowlers, so there was doubt for Angie to take that decision."

Sri Lanka's decision to rest their spearhead-by-default Shaminda Eranga in the Northampton match, also had creditable reasons. Eranga had not played competitively since injuring his ankle in Bangladesh in February, but with Suranga Lakmal already laid low, Sri Lanka felt it wise to preserve him. He has returned from long breaks to deliver long, testing spells in the past, and he was perhaps entitled to a poor day on this return. He swung the ball at pace at times, but an economy rate of 4.77 was a fair reflection of his waywardness.

As evening came on, Sri Lanka began to serve up freebies, allowing Root unchecked progress to his hundred, and Matt Prior a smooth return to his free-flowing best. In the last half-a-session, England raced on at close to five runs an over.

Sri Lanka's attack has only succeeded when it has hunted as a pack and made run-making difficult on unresponsive surfaces. A poor end to this day may not necessarily spell doom for the Test, but already outgunned in English conditions, Sri Lanka cannot afford too many sessions like it.

At 344 for 5 and two men well set, England have the firmer grip on the match. Sri Lanka have so often been tenacious in ODIs and T20s, roaring back from near-impossible situations, refusing to accept defeat. If they can discover some of that intensity in whites, they may tip the match back in their favour and avoid another disappointment at one of cricket's cherished venues.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 13, 2014, 17:48 GMT

    Now it seems England have not got quality fast bowlers too. You need to understand the basics of the game before you remark off the top of your head. I was at Lords and became bored when I realised the pitch was flat as a pancake. It will get worse and the bowlers be it England or SL will have to break their backs to get any mileage out of the pitch. This match will be a draw. Only a few thousand people will end up suffering from sun burns.

  • Lalith on June 13, 2014, 11:43 GMT

    In my previous comments I mentioned that SL only chance is to win the toss and bat first and put on over 450. Then get Poms under pressure. Angelo has done the opposite and now suffer. Anjelo should be dropped from the captaincy. If he were Sl wuld not have won T20 WC. Give the captaincy back to Mahela until he retires.

  • ajith on June 13, 2014, 10:42 GMT

    Mathews says "We have three quality fast bowlers". Really?

  • Nick on June 13, 2014, 10:29 GMT

    Sri Lanka's best chance of taking 20 England wickets is to have top-class spinner Rangana Herath bowling in the 4th innings, when the wicket is deteriorating and taking spin. This means batting first when you win the toss, greentop or not. No matter which three of Eranga, Prasad, Pradeep or Kulasekara are chosen, none is going to take 4 or 5 wickets on Day 1. If Mathews and team management are worried about exposing the openers Kaushal and Karunaratne to Anderson and Broad, they should lobby the selectors for Upul Tharanga's recall, who has the proven ability to stay in and see off the new ball. It should have been SL at 344 for 5.

  • prasanth on June 13, 2014, 9:13 GMT

    This is a typical "tourist problem". A lot of touring teams start off the first test on a decent note by keeping things tight, taking a few wickets early on. But somehow a partnership will be let to survive for a little longer and by the end of the day, you are virtually outplayed and staring down at a potential defeat. SL should have attacked Moeen and somehow grabbed a wicket to put England on the backfoot. Once Moeen and Root settled down and the sun came out, it was bad news. Prior is someone who can come in and just swing the balance altogether with his hitting. If the sun keeps shining, they may get away with Anderson and co (that is once the Eng innings is over). As touring teams have found out in the past, sometimes clouds return to the Lord's with Anderson and then it will be fun to watch the ball wobbling around. So, sun or clouds?

  • Rizwan on June 13, 2014, 9:06 GMT

    I am a Sri Lankan and the sad fact is we do not produce FAST BOWLERS who can regularly hit 90 MPH - Most of the Sri Lankan bowlers are MILITARY MEDIUM . Even the great Chaminda Vaas struggled in England , SA and down under . The lack of penetration puts enormous pressure on the batsman who have to chase 500 plus runs .

    In contrast Pakistan , despite having a rubbish batting line up Win away from the sub- continent because they have wicket-taking FAST bowlers .

    The only option left for the Sri Lankans is to play defensive cricket and hope the opposition to make a mistake - Nasser Hussein adopted this strategy by asking Ashley Giles to bowl on the leg stump to TENDULKAR and the attritional cricket worked in favour of England at the time although many Pundits said it was negative tactics .It was a tribute to the bloody-mindedness of Nasser that England performed creditably in India on that tour.

  • Dummy4 on June 13, 2014, 9:03 GMT

    Sports performance and success/failures does NOT depend on population strength of a country. How many times should people be reminded of this simplest of thing again and again! China, Usa, India and Brazil are not going to win everything in sports because of their population (unless you agree to play all sports against each individual in a particular country until all the individuals are defeated). Jeez some people and their great intelligence I tell you.

  • Dinesh on June 13, 2014, 8:51 GMT

    This is a Test Match, for more days ahead of us. Give the SL guys a chance., We know their imitations, bowling is a weak link, was quite evident yesterday, anyway the batting should help the Lankans. I'm sure Kaushal, Sanga, Mahela & Matthews would contribute., Jayawewa

  • Lahiru on June 13, 2014, 8:05 GMT

    Sri lanka is a national cricket team full of men who comes from the single district Colombo, in a country that has 25 districts. No 1 to No 7 in their batting line up in this game except Kumar Sangakkara are from Colombo and they are expecting to beat larger countries with bigger populations with this Colombo first selection policy? Chandimal who is from Balapitiya is ignored from the playing XI to accommodate Prasanna Jayawardene and Dimuth Karunarane whose averages are around 30, while Chandimal has the second highest average 51 among the Sri Lankans who have played at-least 20 innings in test cricket.

  • Jeewaka on June 13, 2014, 7:58 GMT

    Sri lankan well paid selectors and team management should take the responsibility. Kulasekara is not a wicket taking bowler in both ODL and test . He doesn't hv pace . He takes 1 wkt per inning. Playing him as a opening fast bowler cost us the game . His bowling never threatens batsmen. 152 ODI 168 Wkts 37 test innings 47 wickets Do our selectors happy with his performance Why do they never give chance to other real fast bowlers in the country

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