England reap Robson's unintended consequences
England Lions 291 for 4 (Robson 142, Taylor 99*) lead Sri Lanka A 289 by two runs
Sam Robson's path towards England recognition has been affected by the law of unintended consequences, making him a subject Robert K. Merton would have craved when he brought the theory into the public domain in the 1930s.
Coincidentally, when Merton's paper was published in 1936, another Australia-born player was a huge part of English cricket. It remains to be seen whether Robson can create a legacy to sit alongside Gubby Allen but a fateful decision in 2008 has given him the chance.
A hundred to give England Lions control in Dambulla - his fourth century in five matches - brings him closer to following Allen from Sydney to Test cricket for England. And his stand of 197 with James Taylor, who finished the day tantalisingly one run away from his own century, has given England Lions control of the second unofficial Test.
Shunning university to play cricket, Robson was signed up to play for Normandy CC in the Surrey Championship. Making 91 on debut was a convincing start and almost immediately he was handed an opportunity by Middlesex. The next season, what started as a trip to further his cricket had turned into a professional career.
Cause No. 3 of Merton's unintended consequences is 'immediate interest'. Robson wanted to play cricket. He was forced to shift his life half way around the world. So be it. He began as a sporty child in Sydney's suburbs, fell in love with cricket in England, and could now reward the country which seduced him and gave him his new life.
Robson has seized his chance to become a composed opening batsman with a compact technique and a cool head, assets England could turn to as they begin a new era in the summer. If Robson is selected, two of his first three Tests will be on his home ground, the venue that hooked him.
Here he comfortably saw off the new ball, a lesser threat in the absence of Dhammika Prasad who joined the Sri Lanka ODI squad in Bangladesh, and began a steady accumulation against the spinners. Like for England's slow bowlers, there was little in the way of dangerous turn on what is a fairly slow wicket. Tharindu Kaushal struggled the most, conceding almost four-and-a-half an over.
Chaturunga de Silva did most of the bowling and provided a solid display given how easily England scored in the afternoon. Chatura Randunu, a left-armer providing a third spin option, also outbowled Kaushal.
Robson took three boundaries in a row off de Silva having passed fifty in 106 balls. The first was a shimmy down the wicket, lifting a drive over the bowlers head. The second a firm cut to a ball too short. The third a stupendous cover drive, the face of the bat opened to thread it through the gap between extra-cover and mid-off. It was perhaps his best shot.
There were plenty to choose from as Robson took another 64 balls for his hundred with 15 boundaries. After a lean time in Pallekele, he was back into the form that he seen him flourish this winter.
His summer ended on a weak note with a top score of just 45 from the final six Championship matches of the season, as Middlesex's title challenge flopped. But he excelled in Australia with consecutive hundreds for the England Performance Programme. Another hundred was added in the first warm-up match of this tour.
He does not have a technique to dazzle but has proved he possesses the mental capacity to make runs at the top of the order on a consistent basis. It is important he can prove he has the whole package for Test cricket. Runs may not be the full source of selection in the summer. Nick Compton put up an overwhelming case for a Test call up on paper - and continued to do so last season after being dropped - but the selectors decided, after two poor Tests, that he was not the man for them.
Robson could be. After tea he even treated himself to holding the pose through an exquisitely timed cover drive which sped away to the boundary.
He fell clipping a Kaushal full toss to midwicket where a sharp catch was held low down by Upal Tharanga - indicative of the way Sri Lanka A stayed game in the field; some of the work on the boundary was outstanding. Kaushal then bowled nightwatchman Ollie Rayner as the hosts took a little hope with them into the close that another fightback could be possible.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo