England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Headingley, 1st day May 19, 2016

Hales and Bairstow steady England after Shanaka strikes on debut

England 171 for 5 (Hales 71*, Bairstow 54*) v Sri Lanka
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

If Dasun Shanaka was an English seamer, he might well be on the endangered species list. His unassuming line and length, delivered with a high action and at a pace in the mid-to-high 70mphs, is precisely the sort of fare that the ECB - with this season's new toss and pitches edict for domestic cricket - is looking to phase out of the county game. Such skills don't cut the mustard at Test level these days, apparently.

Ironic, then, that Shanaka's sensational maiden spell in Test cricket was the stand-out performance on a truncated opening day of the first Test at Headingley - a ground synonymous with medium-pace marvels down the years, most famously, Neil Mallender's debut against Pakistan in 1992. Three wickets for one run in the space of eight deliveries - including England captains present and future, Alastair Cook and Joe Root - ripped open a contest at a venue where Sri Lanka boast an improbable 100 percent record, following their series-winning victory in 2014.

It required a diligent half-century from Alex Hales (another player whose output today belied the pre-conceptions) coupled with some home-ground know-how from Jonny Bairstow, for England to regroup with a 88-run stand for the sixth wicket, after their ambitions had been dramatically dented by the loss of five wickets for 34 runs either side of the lunch break.

By tea, when Yorkshire's dank weather swept in across the Pennines to wipe out the final session, Hales was unbeaten on 71, his second Test half-century in nine innings and his highest yet, beating the 60 he made against South Africa at Cape Town in January. It had been an innings of intense application, studded with 12 fours, as he battled initially to adapt his hard-handed technique to the overcast conditions before growing in confidence as his innings progressed.

At the other end was Bairstow, who arrived at the crease with England's innings in crisis at 83 for 5, but responded with the sort of sparky counter-punching that Matt Prior, in his own pomp, had so often provided from No. 7. With his confidence glowing following scores of 246 and 198 in his two most recent innings for Yorkshire at Headingley, Bairstow's 54 not out from 67 balls took the attack back to Sri Lanka, who nevertheless remained firmly in the contest at 171 for 5, thanks to Shanaka's stunning arrival.

After being put into bat on a morning when bowling first was a no-brainer for both captains, England's openers were obliged to rein in the extravagant strokeplay that has coloured so much of their cricket in recent months, and that situation might as well have been tailor-made for Alastair Cook. He began the match needing another 36 runs to reach 10,000 Test runs, and after getting off the mark with a sixth-ball clip for four through midwicket, appeared well set for the long grind until Shanaka tore up the script.

Alex Hales stayed firm while others around him fell © Getty Images

Shanaka, who was the last of the five bowlers used by Angelo Mathews, launched his Test career with a maiden before striking with the first ball of his second over. Cook had been leaving the ball with his usual sangfroid for most of his 52 deliveries, but having creamed one cover drive off Nuwan Pradeep, he was drawn into another from the slower, wobblier Shanaka. The full length outside off left him a touch, and Cook scuffed an edge through to Dinesh Chandimal, the keeper. He was gone for 16, and still needs another 20 runs to notch up a landmark that has been on his conscience since the start of the South Africa tour in December.

Three balls later, however, such thoughts had been whisked out of England's minds. Nick Compton, out of form for Middlesex so far this season with 100 runs at 20.00 in four matches to date, had been advised by his captain to "just relax and play" as he attempts to extend his stuttering Test career. However, his anxieties cannot have been aided by his team-mates' struggles to impose themselves, and when his turn eventually came, it proved to be short and cruel.

Compton's third delivery was on a perfect off-stump line and length, and demanded a shot in response. Attempting the deadest of dead-bat pokes, he squeezed a low edge through to Lahiru Thirimanne at first slip and was gone for a duck as Shanaka became only the third bowler in Test history, and the first since Richard Johnson in 2003, to claim two wickets before conceding his first career run.

And, as if that was not enough of an impact on debut, Shanaka then added England's main man to his tally, as Joe Root - in such golden touch in all formats - was also drawn into a drive that scudded to Kusal Mendis at third slip.

It was a dream start for Shanaka, who had been awarded his Test cap by Mahela Jayawardene before the start of play, and a timely boost for a beleaguered Sri Lanka squad too, who began the match knowing that Dhammika Prasad, their matchwinning seamer on this ground two years ago, will miss the whole Test series after flying home to resolve a shoulder injury.

But the clatter of wickets at the other end served, perversely, to boost Hales' confidence, as if validating his watchful outlook. He had opened his account with a well-timed clip through midwicket off Pradeep, then followed that up with a rather streakier edge through the vacant third slip off Shaminda Eranga. An emphatic punch through the covers dented Mathews' figures after a tight start to his spell, then, having notched his first single of the morning from his 48th delivery, Hales added two more fours in the space of three balls off Mathews, each drilled through the covers off the front and back foot respectively.

After the break, however, England's problems deepened before they could improve. James Vince, on debut, had dug in to lunch, blocking out his first 15 balls, and then a further three after the break, before square-driving Pradeep into the covers to get off the mark in Test cricket. But, despite punching two well-timed fours in three balls off Eranga, Vince was suckered by the bowler's full length and controlled outswing to become Mendis' second catch at third slip.

Into the fray strode Ben Stokes, never a man to die wondering in a crisis. After a watchful first-ball block, Stokes spanked fours from each of his next three balls, including a loose clip off the pads that flew agonisingly close to the man at short midwicket. That, however, was as good as his innings would get. Seeking to get onto the front foot, both literally and metaphorically, he clipped a tame catch to Mathews at mid-on to deepen England's gloom.

By tea, however, Hales and Bairstow had provided their team with a steadying hand, with Bairstow in particular striking the perfect balance between attack and defence. He survived one moment of genuine alarm, on 40, when he was adjudged lbw to Mathews only for the delivery to be shown on review to be sliding down leg. His response, three balls later, was to gallop down the track to Rangana Herath and deposit him back down the ground for six, and when he opened the face to glide his sixth four through third man off Mathews, he brought up a 60-ball fifty that England will hope is the harbinger of much, much more.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket

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