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May 18, 2006
The weather forecast for the first day at Hove was rotten and yet, much like the Sri Lankans' second innings at Lord's, expectations were defied and things turned out quite beautifully. Upul Tharanga's impressive form continued with a powerful, well-timed hundred, while Mahela Jayawardene pitched in a delightful cameo of 45 not out late on.
The day may have belonged to Tharanga, who compiled a patient 140 from 252 balls, but the story of the day concerned one man who wasn't even playing: the enigmatic Sanath Jayasuriya. First of all it was a question of 'Will he play, or won't he?' and the answer to that was an emphatic 'He won't' - a telling signal ahead of the Edgbaston Test.
One mystery solved, another immediately arose in its place for an eager press pack who wanted to know more. This time the question was `Where is he?', prompting the journalists and photographers to rush around trying to find him - and towards the end they may have had some success.
Such frenetic activity was in stark contrast to the lazy, holiday atmosphere of the seaside ground. There was autograph hunting and many games of cricket down one side of the arena, mainly from the schoolchildren on an away day, but plenty of deckchairs and snoozing down the other.
One man who was certainly not treating this game as a picnic was James Kirtley - it was his venture back in the first team since he underwent remodelling work on his action. He was gun-barrel straight but the price of success appears to be two yards of pace. Still, just to be playing cricket will do him just fine for now - and he led the side to boot.
As the weather improved throughout, Sri Lanka's batsmen bloomed in the last two sessions on a sun-drenched pitch. They appeared to have mastered the English conditions - and after three days' batting earlier this week it's no wonder - as they coursed to 283 for 4 by stumps.
Tharanga was particularly strong with a straight bat through the offside, off his front and backfoot. He mixed clean hitting with patience, although he was helped by some wayward Sussex bowling, especially from Duncan Spencer.
Sri Lanka scored quickly to start with but lost Jehan Mubarak, and then were tied down with a change of bowling as Timothy Lindley and Luke Wright put the mockers on. Chris Nash was next to strike, in the over just before lunch. He trapped Michael Vandort lbw sweeping - and continued to tease the Sri Lankans with lots of flight.
Although he didn't find any more wickets, he did find a few inside edges which dribbled to fine leg. As the day dozed on, Kumar Sangakkara was caught low at backward point - and he waited for the umpires to give him out though he was clearly out.
Then came the bright Jayawardene. His good form continuing, he hit Oliver Rayner for 17 in one over, including four, six, four - all of them slog-sweeps. But he did bat beautifully and made a slow wicket look very even paced. A couple of sweet off-drives, where he just opened the face to beat cover slightly, off both Rayner and Wright were the highlights.
The new ball did a bit later on, and accounted for Tharanga, who misjudged a pull and was caught at mid-on on the last ball of 90th over.
This was an old-fashioned day in which overs were bowled quickly. The spinners Nash and Rayner raced through 28 overs between them as 97 overs were played in the day. The bowlers stuck to their task with great energy and the younger players, who mainly represent the second XI, were clearly battling to make an impression.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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