England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Lord's, 1st day May 11, 2006

England disperse the clouds of winter

The 2006 season gets underway as Andrew Flintoff wins the toss © Getty Images
The blood and thunder of the Ashes seemed a million miles away, but the spirit of last summer remained in full attendance. As a new English season got underway on a blissful sunny day at Lord's, there was a sense that the clouds of the winter were being lifted before our eyes.

Before this match began, the summer of 2005 had been weighing heavily on everyone's minds - had it been a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, never to be repeated; or the glorious redemption of a maligned and marginalised sport? As England fans know only too well, it is dangerous to read too much into a single day's play, but with ticket sales brisk from here until the weekend, and the weather set fair for at least another day, all the signs point to a season that will, if not crackle with excitement, then at least hum with contentment.

Those who have followed England's fortunes since that heady September day will have winced at the injuries, groaned at the batting collapses, despaired of the one-day performances, and wondered if things will ever be the same again. But for the casual cricket fans - the type who packed the stands today but understandably lack the time or inclination to get up at 4am to keep track of a tour of the subcontinent - everything seemed much as they had left it eight months ago.

Take the opening partnership, for instance. Who would have guessed that Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick were playing together for the first time since mid-November? Paternity leave for Strauss and emotional/viral leave for Trescothick had robbed England of a partnership that has now accounted for more than 2000 runs in 41 outings. All of that was forgotten, however, as they mowed their way through a pedestrian Sri Lankan attack.

Alastair Cook: a composed start © Getty Images

And the crowd loved it. This may have been an event far removed from the 17-wicket anarchy of that last first morning at Lord's, but then, no-one truly turns up to a Test in mid-May - the earliest start to an English Test season in history - expecting the sort of fireworks that Harmison and McGrath served up in July.

As an excuse to escape the office and bathe in the first shards of summer sunshine, however, it was unrivalled. Lord's exemption from the ICC ban on imported food and drink added to the festivity of the occasion, as spectators feasted on their picnics, supped their Pimms, and turned improbably pink in the stands.

Sri Lanka are not the most phenomenal side in the game, and already this scoreline is resembling the corresponding fixture at Lord's last May, when Bangladesh were hammered by an innings and 261 runs. Then as now, Trescothick made a century, Strauss made a start, and a young middle-order prospect - for Ian Bell, read Alastair Cook - made a composed half-century that promised much more.

It is a confusing state of affairs when a score of 318 for 3 elicits little more than a contented sigh, but that's how it felt at Lord's today. Muttiah Muralitharan carried the attack and, with it, his wickets tally to 613 and was as much of a threat now as he has always been. "He's probably been overbowled for ten years" was Tom Moody's succinct appraisal.

With a bit of good fortune, Sri Lanka might have hauled themselves back into the game. Trescothick survived two squeakingly close lbws on 28 and 85, while Kevin Pietersen's reprieve through a no-ball on 52 could have desperate ramifications tomorrow morning if he gets into his stride. But Chaminda Vaas - who managed just four wickets in three Tests in 2002 - lacked bite without a new ball in his hands, and by opting for an extra batsman, Sri Lanka deprived themselves of the remarkable Lasith Malinga, whose action alone can baffle an unacquainted opposition.

There's time and potential for Sri Lanka to get back into this match with the bat, but today was less about the on-pitch action and more about the atmospherics. The football World Cup is looming to turn the heads of the uncommitted, but at this early stage of the season, the game has passed its first real test. It may be mere coincidence that the sun had deigned to shine just as the season gets underway, but at this precise moment in time, it doesn't feel like it.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo