Mahmood dents Sri Lanka A's prospects
England A 424 all out (Bell 144, Prior 76 not out, Cook 63, Shah 52) v Sri Lanka A 179 for 6 (Gunawardene 40, Mahmood 3 for 41)
Sajid Mahmood bounced back from early onslaught from Avishka Gunawardene to rip through Sri Lanka's top order and tighten England A's grip on a match that they've controlled ever since Ian Bell walked to the crease in the first hour. At stumps on day two, Sri Lanka A still trailed by 245 runs with only four first-innings wickets remaining.
Mahmood, who was held back as a second-change bowler, was initially expensive as Gunawardene, a powerful and fearless dasher, raced to 40 from just 56 balls. But Mahmood's extra pace had the final say, and Gunawardene was eventually caught behind.
At that stage, Sri Lanka A, who lost their Test prospect Ian Daniel early, caught in the covers, had been ticking along smoothly at 65 for 1. Soon, however, they had slipped to 77 for 4 and were deep in trouble as Mahmood continued to breach their defences. Anuska Polonawita (16) was caught behind for 16 and Jehan Mubarak (10) was caught on the crease and clean bowled.
Thilina Kandamby (28), confident after his fine form in the Provincial Tournament, counterattacked with a brisk 28 from 45 balls before a desperate slice of misfortune. Driving the ball through extra cover, he cracked the silly-point fieldsman on the full and ball ballooned up to Graeme Swann, the grateful bowler.
But Sri Lanka's fightback continued in the final session. First, Prasanna Jayawardene scored 24 before being pinned lbw and then Gayan Wijekoon (17 not out) and Malinga Bandara (30 not out), both handy allrounders, chipped away at the lead during an unbroken 49-run stand.
Earlier, Matthew Prior had starred after Bell had fallen for 144, Nandika Ranjith finally unlocking his sound defence and sending his stumps cart-wheeling. Prior ensured that the lower order didn't melt away on another scorching day, breezing to 76 from 85 balls, an innings that included 10 fours.
Malinga Bandara eventually mopped up the tail with his legbreaks, finishing with 5 for 96 from 37 overs, but England's 424-run total left Sri Lanka on the back foot and by the close England A still held the initiative.
Bandara's performance was praised by his coach, Stan Nel: ""The pitch is an absolute batting paradise. It is more difficult for the bowlers. In that respect Malinga Bandara's five wickets was a great haul in his first game back for Sri Lanka `A'."
But Nel was less happy with the bowlers: "We bowled well in parts yesterday (first day) and fielded really well. Today our top four batsmen let us down. They have come after a good provincial tournament and they are in form. I've had a chat with them and asked them to take on more responsibility.
"Having said that, Kandamby was a bit unlucky the ball ricocheted off the shoe and Prasanna Jayawardene was also unlucky when he was given out when he edged the ball onto the pads. It was disappointing but that's cricket," he said.