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
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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

  • 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.

  • LALITHKURUWITA 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.

  • screamingeagle on June 13, 2014, 10:42 GMT

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

  • nickexplore 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.

  • Bernoulli 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?

  • rizwan1981 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.

  • 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.

  • cricket_slcsupport 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

  • Galmos 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.

  • Jeewaka9999 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

  • 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.

  • LALITHKURUWITA 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.

  • screamingeagle on June 13, 2014, 10:42 GMT

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

  • nickexplore 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.

  • Bernoulli 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?

  • rizwan1981 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.

  • 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.

  • cricket_slcsupport 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

  • Galmos 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.

  • Jeewaka9999 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

  • John_Geo on June 13, 2014, 7:20 GMT

    I do not think SL wilt in tests - however lack of test cricket and abundance of 20-20 and ODI has made it difficult for players to return to quality test cricket.

    Lack of leadership and strategic planning starting from the level of coaching was clearly visible. There was no effective approach that would have worked on a wicket such as at Lords. Toothless bowling attack further deteriorated proceedings. The funny thing is, those who scored big runs were the ones with least technique, judgment or footwork. It is the poor bowling that makes such players to prosper. SL did not swiftly identify the weak areas of players and exploited such vulnerabilities. The bowlers are just going through the motions thinking batsman will at some point make a mistake rather that forcing them to make errors. You can never take 20 wickets to win tests with this mindset. The best SL can hope with such a strategy is a draw. I would not be surprised if this is clearly visible when SL starts batting.

  • on June 13, 2014, 5:49 GMT

    I do not think that Sri Lanka did wilt in whites, but they wilted on their own. Anyone who watched the match at Lords or on TV would have seen the vacuum in leadership. There was no leadership evident from Lankan side and as a result no real strategic planning. At some 115/4 Poms were open to wilt but what happened was sheer mediocre planning. No tactical strategies to trap Ali or Root was evident. It was all a case of just move on with time from one over to another. Why did not Mahela or Sanga give some advise to Mathews. Pathetic sight it was. I agree with others, when you win toss, you bat and that is a sign of strength.

  • starcy on June 13, 2014, 5:37 GMT

    Looks like a whitewash

  • on June 13, 2014, 3:38 GMT

    Tell you what,Srilanka atleast won the ODI and T20 series.I dont think India can do even that!!!I am also a fan if not diehard fan of Indian team (especially after the retirement of sachin,dravid and co).Perhaps Pakisthan maybe the only subcontinent team who can challenge Eng or Australia if not win.Atleast they have a deadly bowling attack though their batting strength is considered weak!!! Soon a Gambhir/Rohit will be dancing to the tunes of James Anderson and save for perhaps a Pujara or kohli rest of them will be back in dressing room before long!!I dont even want to talk about the bowling part!!It makes me throw up when you field bowlers like ashwin or a jadeja on england pitches!! God save India

  • on June 13, 2014, 3:28 GMT

    @indianInnerEdge - both shami and Aaron bowl over 140 consistently. As a die hard Indian fan, how did you miss that? Bhubaneswar Kumar is in good form. I am sure India will miss a good spinner, as Jadeja and Ashwin are not as good as Herath, but Indian pace bowling would perform better than SriLanka's.

  • on June 13, 2014, 3:25 GMT

    120 / 4 to 344/ 5 well-done England. Root shows his roots are long. WHY DHAMMIKA PRASAD MISSED THIS TEST?

  • nickexplore on June 13, 2014, 2:26 GMT

    Without a spearhead opening bowler capable of taking 5 wickets, SL were always going to struggle to keep England to a modest 1st innings total. So the decision by Mathews to send England in on a perceived Lord's greentop was baffling. SL ceded control of the match and series to England. Perhaps Mathews was fearful that his top-order would be rolled by Anderson and Broad. But this was a chance SL should have taken - Kaushal Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne should not be protected - they are opening batsmen. When you win the toss you bat first.

  • IndianInnerEdge on June 13, 2014, 1:51 GMT

    A sign of things to come for the rest of the summer by the looks of it.....terrific if you are an England fan, ominious for SL and Indian fans......the indian bowling attack is also similar or possibly even more pathetic than SL's.....also they've left out the one guy who bowls 140kmph + in umesh yadav and are bringing this popgun bunch of pie juggling medium pacers .....i forsee india chasing 450+ totals every time the wood is in their hands......am a die hard indian fan and hope am proven wrong....cricinfo please publish.....")

  • glen1 on June 13, 2014, 0:46 GMT

    May be the attention span and stamina required to succeed in the long format has come to pass for Subcontinental and West Indian teams? That only Australia, Eng, SA and NZ can truly succeed at it? If so, the crowd support for the long format will wilt away.

  • siltbreeze on June 12, 2014, 21:50 GMT

    As an English supporter, I really don't understand Sri Lanka's approach to the red ball part of this tour. They have one warm-up game and 'rest' Eranga, who hasn't played since February. Prasad, who looked okay in the ODIs, is their best seamer with 4-61 against Northants and doesn't get picked for the Test. It doesn't make sense. You have one 4-day game, pick your Test XI and give them some red ball practise.

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  • siltbreeze on June 12, 2014, 21:50 GMT

    As an English supporter, I really don't understand Sri Lanka's approach to the red ball part of this tour. They have one warm-up game and 'rest' Eranga, who hasn't played since February. Prasad, who looked okay in the ODIs, is their best seamer with 4-61 against Northants and doesn't get picked for the Test. It doesn't make sense. You have one 4-day game, pick your Test XI and give them some red ball practise.

  • glen1 on June 13, 2014, 0:46 GMT

    May be the attention span and stamina required to succeed in the long format has come to pass for Subcontinental and West Indian teams? That only Australia, Eng, SA and NZ can truly succeed at it? If so, the crowd support for the long format will wilt away.

  • IndianInnerEdge on June 13, 2014, 1:51 GMT

    A sign of things to come for the rest of the summer by the looks of it.....terrific if you are an England fan, ominious for SL and Indian fans......the indian bowling attack is also similar or possibly even more pathetic than SL's.....also they've left out the one guy who bowls 140kmph + in umesh yadav and are bringing this popgun bunch of pie juggling medium pacers .....i forsee india chasing 450+ totals every time the wood is in their hands......am a die hard indian fan and hope am proven wrong....cricinfo please publish.....")

  • nickexplore on June 13, 2014, 2:26 GMT

    Without a spearhead opening bowler capable of taking 5 wickets, SL were always going to struggle to keep England to a modest 1st innings total. So the decision by Mathews to send England in on a perceived Lord's greentop was baffling. SL ceded control of the match and series to England. Perhaps Mathews was fearful that his top-order would be rolled by Anderson and Broad. But this was a chance SL should have taken - Kaushal Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne should not be protected - they are opening batsmen. When you win the toss you bat first.

  • on June 13, 2014, 3:25 GMT

    120 / 4 to 344/ 5 well-done England. Root shows his roots are long. WHY DHAMMIKA PRASAD MISSED THIS TEST?

  • on June 13, 2014, 3:28 GMT

    @indianInnerEdge - both shami and Aaron bowl over 140 consistently. As a die hard Indian fan, how did you miss that? Bhubaneswar Kumar is in good form. I am sure India will miss a good spinner, as Jadeja and Ashwin are not as good as Herath, but Indian pace bowling would perform better than SriLanka's.

  • on June 13, 2014, 3:38 GMT

    Tell you what,Srilanka atleast won the ODI and T20 series.I dont think India can do even that!!!I am also a fan if not diehard fan of Indian team (especially after the retirement of sachin,dravid and co).Perhaps Pakisthan maybe the only subcontinent team who can challenge Eng or Australia if not win.Atleast they have a deadly bowling attack though their batting strength is considered weak!!! Soon a Gambhir/Rohit will be dancing to the tunes of James Anderson and save for perhaps a Pujara or kohli rest of them will be back in dressing room before long!!I dont even want to talk about the bowling part!!It makes me throw up when you field bowlers like ashwin or a jadeja on england pitches!! God save India

  • starcy on June 13, 2014, 5:37 GMT

    Looks like a whitewash

  • on June 13, 2014, 5:49 GMT

    I do not think that Sri Lanka did wilt in whites, but they wilted on their own. Anyone who watched the match at Lords or on TV would have seen the vacuum in leadership. There was no leadership evident from Lankan side and as a result no real strategic planning. At some 115/4 Poms were open to wilt but what happened was sheer mediocre planning. No tactical strategies to trap Ali or Root was evident. It was all a case of just move on with time from one over to another. Why did not Mahela or Sanga give some advise to Mathews. Pathetic sight it was. I agree with others, when you win toss, you bat and that is a sign of strength.

  • John_Geo on June 13, 2014, 7:20 GMT

    I do not think SL wilt in tests - however lack of test cricket and abundance of 20-20 and ODI has made it difficult for players to return to quality test cricket.

    Lack of leadership and strategic planning starting from the level of coaching was clearly visible. There was no effective approach that would have worked on a wicket such as at Lords. Toothless bowling attack further deteriorated proceedings. The funny thing is, those who scored big runs were the ones with least technique, judgment or footwork. It is the poor bowling that makes such players to prosper. SL did not swiftly identify the weak areas of players and exploited such vulnerabilities. The bowlers are just going through the motions thinking batsman will at some point make a mistake rather that forcing them to make errors. You can never take 20 wickets to win tests with this mindset. The best SL can hope with such a strategy is a draw. I would not be surprised if this is clearly visible when SL starts batting.