Woakes and Borthwick lift England Lions
England Lions 302 for 5 (Woakes 84*, Borthwick 59*) v Sri Lanka A
A polished 83 from Varun Chopra laid the base for a busy, unbeaten 130-run stand between Chris Woakes and Scott Borthwick in the evening, as England Lions moved to a comfortable 302 for 5 at stumps on the opening of the final unofficial Test. Sri Lanka A did themselves few favours as they chased a series-levelling win, shelling two chances and fluffing a straightforward run out, but the Premadasa surface also eased the visitors' progress, flattening out considerably in the afternoon sun.
Organisation was Chopra's hallmark, as he felt his way scrupulously through a sedate morning session. At lunch, England were 60 for 2, half those runs having come from Chopra's bat. There was little in the surface to warrant a run rate of 2.14, but Vishwa Fernando and Dushmantha Chameera found bounce when they bent their backs, and Chopra was content to sway away. He was just as comfortable leaving when the seam bowlers attacked outside the off stump.
Eventually, after lunch, the scoring strokes appeared. Chameera was pasted through the covers, and behind point, and Suraj Randiv whipped square on the leg side. Chopra favoured the back foot, particularly against the spinners, and having begun gingerly against them, progressed with increasing skill and conviction.
He remained vigilant as team-mates gave in to dips in concentration at the other end. James Taylor chopped Lahiru Gamage on to his stumps to collect a rare failure on the tour, and Jonny Bairstow chased a head-high bouncer from Chameera, edging behind. Chopra went to tea 17 short of a 15th first-class ton, but on resumption he was also guilty of letting his focus slip. He played a complacent swipe across the line to a quicker, flatter Jeevan Mendis delivery that skidded through to strike him on the front pad.
Chopra had made three starts in the series so far - one of them a fifty - but this innings had been his most significant of the tour. "I've been fairly pleased with the way I've been batting on tour, without having that team-defining or day-defining total," Chopra said. "The mornings here generally do a little bit and the seamers bowled well with the new ball, but we managed to fight through and the runs became easier as the day went on. The carry was a bit better here than in Dambulla, but once you get in as a batsman you prefer a bit of pace and bounce on the ball."
The bowlers' effort waned in the evening, and Woakes and Borthwick progressed at more than four an over. Neither batsman was particularly secure, offering edges that fell short, or just evaded the slips, but they were punishing on errors of length, slamming short balls to the square leg fence, and driving confidently when the bowlers overcorrected. Having come together at 172 for 5, the pair ensured Chopra's heavy work earlier did not go wasted. Woakes finished the day on 84 and Borthwick had 55.
"I think we shaded that day. We're pretty happy with the score," Chopra said. "If we look to make it fast the first hour and bat half a day tomorrow, we'll be in a good position, having won the series."
If Sri Lanka A are pursuing a level series, they had made a strange choice before the match had even begun. Offspinner Tharindu Kaushal, the top wicket-taker in the series, was omitted from the side, ostensibly to allow Randiv a run, perhaps with a view to sending Randiv on the tour to England in June.
Randiv has had rich returns from his first-class outings so far in the season, having claimed 29 wickets in eight innings. He could not extract substantial turn from the Premadasa surface, but he bowled brave lengths nonetheless, and avoided the sort of wayward overs that had cost him his place in the Test side.
Sri Lanka's most costly missed chance of the day was perhaps also the most difficult. Fernando drew Woakes' outside edge on 31, but a diving Niroshan Dickwella could not close his gloves on the chance. Having toured with the national team in the UAE and Bangladesh, this series has been a sobering return to earth for Fernando. He has only claimed one wicket in the four-dayers so far, perhaps learning like several Sri Lanka tearaways before him that pace alone may not prove penetrative against high-quality batsmen.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here