Lions victory points to healthy domestic game
England Lions 339 for 5 (Hales 101, Bopara 74, Gamage 3-59) beat Sri Lanka A 288 (Chandimal 73, Gunathilaka 57, Patel 3-71) by 51 runs
England Lions started off their triangular series with New Zealand and Sri Lanka with the sort of win that suggests, for all the sniping, the domestic game is in good order.
They posted a total of 339, thanks to a fine hundred from Alex Hales, solid anchoring from Ravi Bopara and two brutal cameos from Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow.
Roy was responsible for the game's most memorable moment - an over of orthodox spin from Sachith Pathirana that was pillaged for five sixes. "There's just one word for that," Hales began, as he effused about Roy's cameo, "special".
Hales also spoke earnestly about a troubled 2013 against the red ball and a desire to challenge himself to correct that. It is a challenge he has completed, with more than 800 first-class runs and seven scores above fifty, including two centuries. It is not so much that Hales is enjoying a good run of form, it is that he looks a more complete player. He has set himself a new challenge - to break into the England ODI set-up, something that a number of players in that dressing room are keen to do.
The bowlers did not do themselves too many favours today, Harry Gurney in particular fluffing his slower balls for some comical wides. To be fair to him, this is probably the game to try them. He and a select few from this squad will have many more chances to hone their one-day tricks in the future.
After the final Test at The Oval, England will be in pyjamas for 16 ODIs, leading into the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in February. While gripes about the schedule are justified, with England travelling to Sri Lanka in November for a seven match series, the priority has been set.
After the loss of James Vince, Hales and Bopara began a second wicket stand that would eventually reach 165, before they both fell in one Lahiru Gamage over. Their stand was all the more impressive given that between the ninth and the start of the 32nd over, they had nothing but spin to work with. While Bopara used his wrists, Hales swept straight deliveries like a man half his size.
Whether Hales starts the World Cup at the top of the order remains to be seen, but this was an important 22 over period, which allowed him to showcase his range in building an innings.
With all the talk of fast, bouncy pitches down under, the last Australian domestic season saw slower tracks expose limited-overs batsmen who were unable to maneouvre the ball around the field. England themselves came undone on a stick, drop-in wicket at Adelaide when chasing just 212. Even the big hitters need to nurdle.
Unlike the standard Hales innings, there were no maximums. That business was left to Jason Roy, who brought his T20 funk to the West Country from South London, clearing the boundary six times in a 25-ball cameo of 51.
Five of them came in one over, as Pathirana was treated with brutal amounts of disdain. All were hit down the ground; the first staying in the ground, the rest either denting the press box or sailing over it. The fifth ball of the over was nudged back to the bowler, eliciting boos from the Taunton faithful.
With further heft added on to the score by Bairstow's heavy clubs down the ground, Sri Lanka were always going to struggle. They were helped out by a passage of not very clever bowling and some lackluster fielding that saw a handful of run out chances spurned and Dinesh Chandimal and Danushka Gunathilaka eat into their target.
But some wily seam from Bopara allowed James Taylor to control the middle overs. As the run rate started to climb, more risks were taken, allowing Boyd Rankin, Craig Overton, Ravi Patel and Gurney to take a few wickets to close the game out.