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Alex Winter in Dambulla
February 22, 2014
Sri Lanka A 289 (Silva 73, Rajapaksa 68, Onions 4-24) and 357 for 3 (Karunaratne 156, Tharanga 116) drew with England Lions 605 for 7 dec (Taylor 242*, Robson 142)
The wicket won the day in Dambulla
There was no Dambulla dustbowl on the final day and the only deterioration was on the forehead of England Lions captain Chris Woakes, left to shrug his shoulders as his side toiled away on a dead wicket. But they have secured at least a draw from this series, which heads to its final leg in Colombo.
Throughout the match, the wicket here - the flattest of the tour - has dominated, save for the first afternoon where Sri Lanka A played carelessly and the Lions found joy with the second new ball. Sam Robson and James Taylor filled their boots and on day four, Dimuth Karunaratne and Upul Tharanga followed suit, both with satisfying centuries and an opening stand of 229.
Karunaratne, a 25-year-old from Colombo, could potentially face several of this Lions squad in Sri Lanka's Test series against England in June. Like Taylor yesterday, he played an innings of a class act. He has been steady in the start of his Test career, the highlight his 85 in Sydney, but since then has made only two half-centuries in 11 innings.
Dropped into Sri Lanka's A team, he shored up a shaky top order, albeit in the most batting-friendly conditions of the tour. Runs here are only a small indicator of potential for success in an English early summer but the way he handled the short ball, particularly when Liam Plunkett came around the wicket for a burst, was impressive.
He dropped his hands just in time to get under another ball banged in by Graham Onions. The next delivery, of similar length but offering a touch of width, was cleverly steered away wide of gully. It was one a number of strokes where, given time to play by the slow nature of the wicket, he manoeuvred the seam bowling with ease.
Against the spinners he was in full control. He stepped out of his crease to lift Ollie Rayner down the ground for six and played a delightful flick through midwicket as Simon Kerrigan had a go around the wicket just before lunch - the experiment lasted all of two balls. After the break, which he took on 95, he turned Scott Borthwick through square leg to bring up a 172-ball century. He walked off very frustrated having bowled after tea with a double hundred in full view.
At the other end, Tharanga, captain and the most experienced player in Sri Lanka A's squad, was playing an important innings for himself. Over 6000 runs in international cricket suggests he should stand out at this level but had made two ducks and 30 before this innings. As recently as last June he made 174 not out against India in an ODI but after a poor home series against South Africa was left out of Sri Lanka's squad for tours of the UAE and Bangladesh.
In a circumspect start to the day, a dropped single into the leg side brought Tharanga fifty in 111 balls. He came out of his shell a touch in the half hour before lunch, creating himself space to carve Rayner through extra-cover but nearly presented a catch to mid-on two balls later. A burst of introspection saw him return to his earlier method, save for one more aggressive advance, this against Kerrigan. He went on to make his first century since the start of December.
In the first two sessions the Lions only found a breakthrough via a lazy cut stroke from Tharanga which he dragged into his stumps. Otherwise it was hard graft and, until the wicket, became difficult to contain two players so well set.
They missed Moeen Ali's offspinners. His more classic floated deliveries might have caused more problems than Rayner, a little tall to get much air, and Kerrigan, who drives the ball into the wicket. Borthwick created the most trouble with several lbw shouts and a thin edge that flew past Jonny Bairstow as Tharanga tried to cut.
Bairstow has not enjoyed much luck on this tour as he struggles to make a case for his Test selection over Matt Prior. Things have not quite come together for Varun Chopra either. In six of his 10 innings this winter he has made it to 20 but only one half-century, continuing slippery form that brought four single-figure scores in his final six innings of the county season.
Chopra's opportunity at Test level is perhaps not as immediate as others on this tour with several candidates ahead of him in the queue for a place in England's batting order. Alex Lees, at 20-year-old and not even an immediate selection for Yorkshire last summer, is not a runner for Test selection at the moment so having played just one innings of note on this tour should not be too much of a concern.
But several others - notably Taylor, Robson, Woakes, Plunkett and Onions - have used this window well to mark themselves out as potential Test picks and will aim to make a further case in the final match of the tour.
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