Patel pushes case for England after Bopara injury
England XI 272 for 4 dec (Trott 101, Strauss 100) and 360 for 6 (Prior 84, Patel 72) beat Sri Lanka Development XI 431 for 6 (Silva 163, Perera 85) and 199 for 4 dec (Perera 90*) by four wickets
England won their second tour match in Sri Lanka against a Development XI by four wickets, overhauling their fourth-innings target at almost a run a ball with encouraging contributions from several members of the batting line-up. Samit Patel, in particular, pressed his case by scoring 72 and may have pushed himself ahead of Ravi Bopara in the selectors' thoughts for the first Test against Sri Lanka, which begins on Monday. Bopara made 66 but a side strain picked up earlier in the match means he is unlikely to provide England with a back-up seam option.
There were also half-centuries for Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior but Ian Bell's run of poor form continued. Opening the batting with Pietersen - first-innings centurions Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott sat out the chase to give their team-mates extended practice - Bell made 11 before edging to the wicketkeeper down the leg side. He has now scored just 130 runs at 10.83 from 13 first-class innings in 2012 and could find his place in the Test side under threat. Bopara and Patel, as well as possibly Tim Bresnan, were already vying to replace Eoin Morgan - who was dropped after the Pakistan series in the UAE - but Bell's struggles may open up another slot.
If selected, Bopara's medium-pace will not be an option, however. "Ravi Bopara strained his left side in the first innings and is unlikely to bowl during the Test series," an ECB spokesman said. "He will be available for selection as a specialist batsman."
Although England's bowlers ran through the Sri Lanka Board XI in their first tour match, they struggled this time around, albeit without the services of James Anderson and Monty Panesar. If England stick with their preferred four-man attack, the inclusion of an allrounder will be essential due to the heat and humidity; and Patel, who bowls left-arm spin, proved his form ahead of a potential Test debut with a buccaneering innings.
The Development XI, resuming on 44 for 1 overnight, quickly slipped to 77 for 4, as Bresnan, Graeme Swann and Steven Finn picked up wickets, but, aided by some declaration bowling from Trott and Bell, declared 15 overs later on 199. That set England 359 to win off 64 overs and Pietersen began in aggressive fashion by sending his second and third balls for four. After Bell's dismissal, Bopara was involved in partnerships of 69 with Pietersen - whose 52 came off the same number of balls - and 83 with Prior. The wicketkeeper was particularly dismissive of the Development XI bowling, striking 13 fours and a six in his 60-ball innings.
Thilina Kandamby, captain of the Development XI, said he had not expected England to chase down the target but that Prior's knock was crucial for the tourists.
"Because of Prior's innings we couldn't do anything. He was hitting each and every ball out of the park and that made the difference," he said. "I know as a SSC cricketer that it is not easy to defend a total on this wicket. Up to tea it was OK and they needed to score over 200 runs in around 30 overs. But the innings was changed course by Samit Patel and Matt Prior. They batted very well."
Patel kept the momentum going after Prior's departure for 84 but, having hit two sixes in three overs, he was bowled by Tharanga Lakshitha with 34 still required. That brought Swann to the crease, who perhaps chose to release some of the frustrations of a difficult match with the ball by walloping five fours and a six in the 12 deliveries he faced. Victory was welcome for England, but there were still one or two questions to be answered.