England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 1st day June 20, 2014

Slapstick Sri Lanka give it away

There were a few occasions on the opening day at Headingley when Sri Lanka could be satisfied with their effort, but a succession of loose shots eventually proved costly and it could be a long road back

Play 01:39
'We were aiming for 350' - Chandimal

As Sri Lanka's hero and nearly-villain from the last over at Lord's came together in the middle in the third session, the innings took a turn toward slapstick. England's quick bowlers launched throat-high bouncers at Nuwan Pradeep, and the batsman made it seem like they were firing cannonballs. He spent more time on the ground than a bank-robbery hostage, but quickly learned to back away instead. Maybe he was just making room outside off stump. His deliciously late, accidental uppercut over the slips, is a shot most of the Sri Lanka top order would not attempt.

Shortly before that, Sri Lanka had folded in such a sorry heap, even Stuart Broad could not quite believe he had taken three wickets in a row for the second time in Tests. Sri Lanka have almost become skilled at awarding surreptitious hat-tricks. Jacob Oram only found out about his feat, well after the 2009 T20 in Colombo had finished.

Sri Lanka's first-ever day at Headingley made for enjoyable viewing, right up until Shaminda Eranga copping one in the back from the cheddar chucker of the Western Terrace. There was a sumptuous cover drive from Mahela Jayawardene, and a dreamy stroke through cover-point from Kumar Sangakkara. Dinesh Chandimal's recent form had suggested he is not suited for limited-overs cricket, but here, played a bright, counter-attacking innings. Angelo Mathews had gone even faster for his 26.

The visitors will have known the history of the venue before they took the field on Friday. "We would have batted first," Chandimal said after play, because the team had reasoned good first-innings totals often translate to good results at Headingley. But if a tall score was their aim, Sri Lanka chose a strange approach. Compelled to lock away their strokes, as they strove for a draw at Lord's, Sri Lanka reopened the cupboard for this match, and were buried as all their shots came tumbling out at once. Of the top seven, five fell playing expansively.

In the morning, under grey skies, the openers had suggested Sri Lanka would sink their hooks in like leeches and wait until all life was drawn from a slower-than-expected pitch. Kaushal Silva had outlined the importance of leaving well, during two fifties at Lord's and perhaps he alone struck the appropriate approach for Sri Lanka's plans. Few batsmen in the world can resist James Anderson in swift, swerving flight, and Silva received an almost unplayable stretch of deliveries.

But as well as Broad and Liam Plunkett also bowled, Sri Lanka chose to live by the sword, before falling on it. Few young players can at once seem as gloriously effortless and jarringly fretful in the same innings as Dimuth Karunaratne. On Friday, he managed the slide from serene to unseemly in the space of two deliveries. His push down the ground for four off Plunkett was delivered with such balance and poise, it suggested this would be the innings he pushed through the tense twenties and twitchy thirties and on to a breakthrough score. His waft at the next ball, which came in at an angle and swung between bat and pad to send leg stump careening, is easy fodder for his naysayers.

If the entire top order had played like Sangakkara, they might have been all out for 150 on another day, but instead, his innings was slam-dunk evidence for the existence of cricket's supernatural elements. England missed a straightforward run out when he was on nought, then failed to appeal when he nicked Plunkett behind. He was dropped on 57, but most astonishing of his escapes was the caught behind on 27. Matt Prior had the ball wedged close against his chest, but seemed to be too distracted by something in the sky to hold it there. A UFO sighting is probably the only acceptable excuse.

Jayawardene and Mathews gave edges to the slips, pushing at balls they may reflect they could have left alone. At no point past the first hour, did Sri Lanka seem tied down, or in desperate need of quick runs. Lahiru Thirimanne did not even have a chance to confront his mortal nemesis, Anderson. The vice-captaincy has recently been such a poisoned chalice for young Sri Lanka players, perhaps the selectors should stop naming one.

"It's really disappointing that as a batting unit we didn't click today," Chandimal said. "The bowlers deserve a lot of credit for the way they bowled on this pitch. When myself and Sanga were batting well in that middle part, we were thinking about 350 would be a good score. But we couldn't get that in the end."

Sri Lanka may have battled on the last day at Lord's but their lack of mettle on Friday reasserted their unwanted reputation for being fun, free-flowing, but ultimately lightweight Test cricketers, particularly on foreign soil. There was a hint of turn for the spinners on the opening day, but if Sri Lanka are to take the game long enough for Rangana Herath to force his way into it, they will not want to be so cavalier in the second innings.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • RAJARAMAN on June 21, 2014, 12:05 GMT

    @sudaththa ... SL tail-ender faced not one but 5-balls that mattered in the first test ... may be they will show their mettle in next innings to stave-off an innings defeat???

  • Felix on June 21, 2014, 11:08 GMT

    Yes. It may be a good idea not to name a vice captain until Chandimal or Thirimanna really grow up. Or label Prasanna J. as the V Cfor tests. We need to carry on with Dimuth specially, like the way we did with Marvan. He is a class act, but luck is not in his side. I expect 3 seamers do their best with Herath. Angie, few overs please

  • Robert on June 21, 2014, 8:53 GMT

    In the end, Cook's decision - much criticised by the armchair brigade - proved to be right; without a lot of help from the Gods of luck and panic, Sri would have been fortunate to make 150. The bowling, let it be said, was good but not earth-shaking, and once again Sri showed they are lightweights when it matters.

  • sudaththa on June 21, 2014, 8:51 GMT

    SL tailender's????? Mavan,, train them to face a ball please

  • Dummy4 on June 21, 2014, 6:32 GMT

    Sanga's innings: a case of the more you peactise the more you become lucky?!

  • Nick on June 21, 2014, 6:18 GMT

    Sri Lanka - gifted the invitation to bat first - failed to make the most of it. Six of the seven batsman got off to good starts but only Sangakkara played above his average. His 79, taking his peerless pre-match Test average of 58.55 to 58.65. Chandimal too looked every bit a top-class Test batsman and his adventurous partnership with Sangakkara had SL on course for 350+, only for the wheels to fall off so spectacularly. Can't help thinking the selectors missed a trick by not playing Vithanage for Thirimanne - in danger of losing his ODI and Test place vs South Africa in SL in July, and his vice-captaincy.

  • Dummy4 on June 21, 2014, 5:18 GMT

    Hail Chandimal... He is the silver line of the dark cloud on Friday. Nice to see him playing fearless cricket with confidence. Had Sanga stuck around, we might have seen a century from Chandimal concerning the approach he took. I mean... who knows? Anyway... SL is on back foot now and curtains are visible unless they can display 'an epic batting show' in the second inning. Credit goes to Eng. They kept bowling tight and waited SL's mistakes. And they were finally well rewarded. Thumbs up 'Trance' Broad, 'Bowing' Plunket and angry Andy!

  • shane on June 21, 2014, 5:09 GMT

    K.vithanage should have easily replaced by thirimanne or Dimuth. I think these batsmans specially Dimuth Dosent have talent (lack of technique) to Handel the ball as an opener.

  • Dummy4 on June 21, 2014, 4:27 GMT

    Thirimanna and dimuth wasting their talents.