SL A v England Lions, 2nd unofficial Test, Dambulla, 1st day February 19, 2014

Lions seamers unpick preconceptions


Sri Lanka A 281 for 9 (Onions 4-20) v England Lions

Onions takes the Lions' share

There have been several accusations made of England's dealing with fast bowlers: they clone them, they burn them out, they turn them into machines and they ruin them. But the performances of the trio of Lions seamers that collected six wickets on the opening day in Dambulla suggest such opinions may need to be reconsidered.

On the flattest pitch of the tour, with England Lions picking three spinners, Graham Onions, Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett produced a display of unwavering discipline. Onions and Woakes sent down 29 overs for only 48 runs between them and Plunkett conceded fewer than 2.5 an over. After 14 overs of the opening hour, Sri Lanka A were 19 for 1 and had only made 66 in the 32 overs by lunch.

It strangled the hosts to the extent that when they felt they could gain relief against the spinners they made mistakes. The Lions spinners proved expensive but Sri Lanka A sold them cheap dismissals and surrendered what had the potential for a first day of domination.

For 20 minutes in the second hour after lunch, England lost control for the first time in the series. A burst of boundaries put Sri Lanka A in a strong position, one they would have anticipated in such favourable batting conditions having won the toss. Then Bhanuka Rajapaksa looked a gift horse in the mouth. After Simon Kerrigan was hit for six over long-on, Graham Onions was stationed back on the boundary. A second attempt at clearing the rope went 20 yards shorter and Onions gleefully claimed the catch.

It was the second instance of naive batting. Onions bowled a bumper, which Dimuth Karunaratne hooked comfortably for four, after which a scout went back at deep-square leg. The very next ball, a second bumper was top-edged to Scott Borthwick at long leg. Mindless.

Rajapaksa, 22 years old and with only 26 first-class matches to his name, could be somewhat forgiven getting drunk on the freedom to accumulate runs after his strangulation for 0 and 20 in Pallekele. But Karunaratne is one of Sri Lanka's Test openers, fresh from the tour of Bangladesh. He was Onions' second wicket, following what is becoming a customary early scalp, this time not until the second over and what looked like the only wicket of the morning before Borthwick took a return catch on the stroke of lunch, Madawa Warnapura tapping a full toss back to him.

Without that second dismissal, the turgid morning would have been a sound result for Sri Lanka A after their top-order capitulations in Pallekele. But when little progress is made, cheap wickets are a bigger blow.

Rajapaksa had found good rhythm. Consecutive cover drives off Plunkett, his sixth and seventh fours - the first the best piece of timing of the day to a ball only slightly fuller than a good length - brought him fifty in 53 balls, which included consecutive sixes off Borthwick, who also dismissed Chaturanga de Silva to a delivery that turned and bounced just enough to produce a bat-pad chance to Jonny Bairstow.

The freebie from Rajapaksa gave Plunkett the chance to bowl at a fresh batsman. He steamed in with a ball more than 50 overs old and produced a fiery spell.

First picked for international cricket as 20-year-old, Plunkett was back on the outside two years later after nine mediocre Tests. England didn't want him and then he left his home county, Durham, after 12 years and back-to-back County Championships. A talent picked too soon by England was sliding away.

A new beginning was sought and the slightly thicker air of Yorkshire allowed Plunkett the chance to earn his way back. An incredibly hard-worker, he won the right to be picked regularly by his new county and on the England Lions tour of Sri Lanka he is now emerging as a potential international bowler once again.

Fitter, stronger and quicker, Plunkett now delivers spells of above 85mph, hitting the pitch hard and generating bounce. He was sharp in the opening match of this series and found the crucial breakthrough on day four. Here he assumed the enforcer role in the absence of Tymal Mills - left out for Kerrigan - and worked Niroshan Dickwella over with the short ball before getting a delivery to bounce a touch and take the edge through to Bairstow.

Plunkett and Woakes have looked candidates for Test selection so far on this tour, with Woakes' batting giving him an edge. Kevin Shine, the ECB's lead bowling coach, also suggested that Woakes' bowling has improved in the short time since his Test debut last September. Here he had Roshen Silva caught behind for 73 to the second new ball to reward his fine day and cap England Lions's excellent opening to this second rubber.

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ian on February 20, 2014, 13:05 GMT

    If this doesn't see Robson starting the upcoming international season opening with Cook in Tests (with Root dropping down the order) and Onions as third seamer behind Broad and Anderson then someone wants their head looking at.

  • Owen on February 20, 2014, 10:39 GMT

    I'd like to see Borthwick given a chance at the start of the English summer. I think him and Ali bowling the spin overs would give the team good ballance and Kerrigan/Panesar are hardly banging the door down so I think it's worth a shot.

    Woakes has a chance of getting back in but if Broad/Anderson/Stokes play Is like the 4th Seamer to have some extra pace he probably has to force Anderson or Stokes out of the team. Who that 4th Seamer is with extra pace I have no idea.

  • Will on February 20, 2014, 10:30 GMT

    Sri Lanka A aren't Australia, but this just shows the utter folly of omitting Onions from the Ashes squad over the winter, when he was the leading wicket taker in English cricket last summer.

  • Paulo on February 20, 2014, 8:17 GMT

    @cricketingstargazer agree with you on Woakes and Kerrigan that people have written them off too early. Kerrigan is probably the best English red ball spinner.

    As for Woakes, he certainly should be in for a shout of a test place. 1 He had better county stats than Stokes last year 2 Stokes may need a rest. Look at Joe Root for example 3 Stokes was picked to suit Aussie conditions so Woakes should surely get a go in England 4 Woakes plays half his cricket at Edgbaston, a seamers graveyard 5 Woakes is far more likely to be a consistent batsman who bowls with better control than Stokes who takes wickets expensively and isn't consistent at all batting wise 6 Stokes performances were overstated in Australia by how poorly the rest played.

  • a on February 20, 2014, 7:45 GMT

    Stargazer - Aus did not dismantle Kerrigan - he simply imploded bowling a collection of full tosses and long hops - probably too much nervous energy. Given he does well in county games the only thing one can assume is that if he does play another test they should break him in against a weaker team and/or in spin friendly conditions - give him chance to settle and showcase his best.

    I agree with your comments about Woakes. It might be good timing for him to get in the test team in this phase. Long term he might be a new ball bowling replacement for Anderson - short term he is probably as good with the bat as some of the specialists the selectors might be contemplating to plug the gaping holes in England's top 6. At worst he would be a decent squad player who could substitute in the Stokes role of 4th seamer/number 6/7

  • Mark on February 19, 2014, 20:59 GMT

    (cont.) I have always liked Liam Plunkett. He has something and has shown it to come back after so many problems. I remember watching him v Pakistan in 2006 (in he company of a certain, recently deceased, rotund astronomer) when, in his second ODI, he came in at 8 after a dreadful collapse and scored a superb 50 to help England to a total that they could at least try to defend.

    Probably he is still just a little short of Test class, but he could do a job as a 4th seamer and adds to the bench strength - he is the sort of player who you could call up in an emergency on the morning of a Test and he would not let you down.

  • Paulo on February 19, 2014, 20:55 GMT

    @ohmatty,atty when you consider the abysmal England careers of Bopara and Compton, perhaps not.

    Good to see Bairstow taking catches.

  • Mark on February 19, 2014, 20:51 GMT

    @Jon Peters What I like about Scott Borthwick is that he has the invaluable knack of picking up wickets with bad balls. Four cheap wickets in his only Test v an Australian side that had dismantled Simon Kerrigan and now he comes on here, bowls a full toss, wicket in his first over - thanks very much! Incredible.

    I really do think that people have written off Chris Woakes as a Test bowler too quickly. It's true that his first spell at The Oval was not good, but he came back strongly and bowled some peaches of deliveries that deserved to take wickets. If he can bat well enough to play at #6 or #7 and score runs he would give England an extra bowling option.

    Kerrigan v Rayner? No contest! I have been one of Ollie Rayner's biggest critics but, last season he did start to take wickets and become a more attacking option, although it is only his batting that gets him into the Middlesex side ahead of Patel. Kerrigan though is a genuinely destructive wicket-taker, but still short of maturity.

  • Jamie on February 19, 2014, 19:10 GMT

    OhhhhhMattyMatty, it's the first XI that has the problems!

  • Ohhhh on February 19, 2014, 18:41 GMT

    When you think that the likes of Compton, Morgan, Bopara, Finn and Wood could all be here too. England's depth is so good. Their 3rd XI would easily beat most International 2nd XIs.

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