Robson's fifth hundred completes Lions' job

England Lions 461 (Woakes 137, Chopra 83) and 273 for 5 (Robson 147*, Chopra 56*) drew with Sri Lanka A 339 (Tharanga 149, Kerrigan 4-86)

The last three days saw barely a soul in attendance at the Premadasa Stadium, but as England Lions secured the draw they needed to take the series, England's Test aspirants may have felt one set of eyes scanning them more keenly than any other. Graham Gooch had arrived in Sri Lanka ahead of this match, foregoing most people's favourite cricket tour - a trip to the West Indies, with the national side.

Gooch is in Colombo to measure England's emerging talent, as the beleaguered senior team seeks fresh direction. Perched behind the bowlers' arm for much of the game's duration, he has passed grunts of approval and harrumphs of discontent whenever a Lions batsman has been at the crease.

On the final day, Gooch's growls were largely of the happier variety, as Sam Robson hit his third hundred of the tour - an unbeaten 147. The innings came in the most testing conditions in the match. The ball had begun to take considerable turn, and the seamers had started to extract inconsistent bounce.

Robson warded off the threat of a Lions collapse in the morning and remained vigilant once the threat had passed. Perhaps suspecting England's batting coach was watching his every move, he held the pose whenever he struck it particularly sweetly. Compact in defence, and compelling in attack, Robson prospered in the V, prompting a murmured affirmation from Gooch when he hit a searing straight drive off Vishwa Fernando.

Offspinner Suraj Randiv had troubled Lions batsmen from the outset on the final day, but Robson was rarely perturbed by his accuracy, nor his extra bounce. Twice he inside edged Randiv past the stumps, but they were hardly close calls. It would not have escaped Gooch that Robson had also hit two hundreds in Australia three months ago, with England's Performance Programme squad.

To have succeeded in Perth and Colombo at 24 years of age suggests serious batting talent. The Lions' coach Mark Robinson certainly thinks so.

"Sam has to be pushing for a place in the national team," he said. "Even in the nets, he's got this great ability to play every ball like it's the most important ball he's ever had in his life. That's a great quality, and you see it when you watch him in the middle. We've also seen it first hand in the county season, where his tempo stays very consistent when he's batting.

"He's had a great innings, and what these boys need to do is back it up when they get back, but they'll take some good form and good news back with them."

The commitmen Robson brought to his work was evident in his refusal to allow his effort to wane, even when the heat had sapped him. Even before Robson reached three figures, he was hunched over at the non-striker's end and, as the day grew long, he would sit increasingly on his haunches between balls. Yet when he bowler reached the top of his mark, Robson would switch himself on. Tired as he was, few poor deliveries escaped punishment even late in the day.

Varun Chopra hit his second fifty of the match in the third session, as Sri Lanka fizzled out, clear now that they would neither win nor lose. Lahiru Gamage bowled a spell off testing reverse swing in the afternoon, but he could not cause significant damage at his pace.

Vishwa Fernando had the opposite problem, going through quickly even off the slowing surface, but unable to generate enough lateral movement to trouble the batsmen. Sri Lanka had hoped he could become the hit-the-deck left-arm cog in their pace battery, but he has not been penetrative in this series, and may require more time to develop.

Although the Lions won the series, 1-0 is not a particularly disheartening result for the hosts. Sri Lanka will rarely possess the depth England boasts, and a healthy portion of this team played in their first A-team series.

Most will view these matches as simply a step in their development, only, the two oldest players - Randiv and Tharanga - will just have to hope that Sri Lanka's team management paid as much attention to this game as England's top brass did.

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Eng Lions 3rd innings Partnerships

1st18SD RobsonAZ Lees
2nd45SD RobsonSG Borthwick
3rd19SD RobsonJWA Taylor
4th15SD RobsonJM Bairstow
5th26CR WoakesSD Robson
6th150V ChopraSD Robson