England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley June 18, 2014

Silva's granite toughness aids Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka would be happy with 0-0

For much of his Sri Lanka career, Kumar Sangakkara has had no equal at pre-match training. He is almost always the last to leave the nets, sometimes by a matter of hours. Those hoping to meet or interview him must first watch him leave ball after ball, then watch him defend plenty more. He is accommodating enough to make their wait worthwhile.

But in the last few months, a new challenger has arisen for Sangakkara's crown of blood and sweat. Kaushal Silva was not the last to face a delivery at the Wednesday morning net session, but he did hang around with his pads on until the end of the session, looking hopefully for the coach to give him a few more balls. The foot of the nets has been a favourite haunt for him since being recalled to the Test side at the end of 2013.

Since then, he has all but secured a long-term berth as opener, in as few as six Tests. In 11 innings, Silva has hit five fifties and a hundred. He had displayed aptitude for application and endurance in the series in the UAE in January, but at Lord's he showcased a head for bounce and swing as well. The England bowlers attacked him with the short ball and bowled testing new-ball spells, but he emerged with a match tally of 120 - second only to Sangakkara from among the visiting batsmen.

Few Sri Lanka batsmen arrive at the top level with such well-formed techniques, and Silva credits preparation for both his success this year, and the good run so far in England. He had also struck an unbeaten ton in the practice match against Northamptonshire.

"When we were in Sri Lanka, I practiced using a granite slab, to emulate the pace you get on the pitches here. When you tilt the granite, you can also recreate movement off the seam. Also I practiced a lot against swinging deliveries on the bowling machine.

"We were in England two weeks before the Northampton match, when we practiced in Sussex. That was incredibly helpful because we were able to come to terms with wickets and the ball here. We picked up the skill of leaving on length against the new ball, as well."

Like for Sangakkara, Silva's father has been a major influence on his career. Sri Lanka top orders are often replete with homespun techniques, but Silva's cricket is textbook - the result of countless hours of work with his father, who is an accredited cricket coach.

"My father has watched almost every match I've played since I was young. He tells me what I'm doing well and what I'm doing wrong. I absorb a lot of what he says, because even when I play well, he might have some criticism. That's important, because when you're doing well, you don't think about your faults. When you do have a closer look on the good days, that gives you a lot more insight into your game."

Silva had set his eyes on this series for some months, as he is not in the frame for ODI selection, and he is set to face his most difficult test yet, with the Headingley pitch expected to be faster and more seam friendly than Lord's. He can have few better mentors than head coach Marvan Atapattu, who averaged 50.16 from four matches in England. Atapattu is also on trial on this tour, as Sri Lanka search for a new head coach.

"Marvan aiya has been telling us for some time which sorts of things work in these conditions, so we knew what we needed to work on. Things have turned out like he said, so that training has paid off.

"Personally, I've always been someone who plays close to my body. Especially when they use the new ball, I'm thinking about not going after the balls outside a certain life. That is difficult. But you also have to try and score against the balls that are at your body. I think those things have helped me so far in England."

Despite an average of 55.09 since January, Silva sees room for improvement in his cricket. He and Dimuth Karunaratne have shown glimpses of promise as an opening partnership, without yet putting together the kind of substantial stand that might give Sri Lanka a definitive advantage in a Test.

"I'm quite disappointed that I've got a few good starts and then not gone on to triple figures. The opening spells are the toughest. When you get through the toughest periods, and get out for 60, it's a bit of a waste. I need to be watchful and try to shed the things that are preventing those big scores."

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

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