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Jayasuriya exposes Lions' frailties against spin

Sri Lanka A 187 for 6 (Jayasuriya 83) beat England Lions 184 (Bell-Drummond 51, Jayasuriya 5-35) by four wickets
Scorecard

Beneath the shadow of Elephant Rock, England Lions produced the sort of under-par display that even an elephant would want to forget in a hurry. There are some Lions on this tour, batsmen and bowlers alike, who will hope the selectors also have an uncharacteristic attack of amnesia about the events of the past week as Sri Lanka A have taken an unassailable 3-0 lead in the series.

Sri Lanka's tormenter with bat and ball was Shehan Jayasuriya, stocky and bearded, whose offspin in his home country has only ever been regarded as serviceable, but who took 5 for 35 as the Lions managed 184 in a sub-standard batting display. Jayasuriya completed a thoroughly satisfying day with a doughty, run-a-ball 83. His follow-up was needed, too, Sri Lanka A's sense of superiority being somewhat tarnished when they lost six wickets in overhauling an untaxing target with 13 overs to spare.

To his credit, Jayasuriya has won a smattering of full caps over the past two years and he does have a habit of tormenting touring teams: he also took five wickets against the Australians at the P Sara stadium in July. Steve O'Keefe took five wickets in the same match and has done all right for himself since.

Jayasuriya also caught the attention when he moved last season from Colombo to the less fashionable outstation club, Chilaw Marians, a fishing town on Sri Lanka's north-west coast - although they play their games closer to the capital, near the airport. Nevertheless, players normally move in the opposite direction but, if Jayasuriya helps to build the status of cricket outside the main centres, it will be a thoroughly good thing. It proved a successful move: Chilaw finished second in the league and Jayasuriya scored 853 runs at 47, but even at club level his impact as a bowler was limited.

For the second match in a row, therefore, England Lions fell to a slow bowler regarded as serviceable but rarely seen as a matchwinner. In the second match in Dambulla, the skipper, Milinda Siriwardana, another spin bowler of limited reputation, took four.

Now it was Jayasuriya's turn to prosper - two wickets held at slip, two at leg slip and, to begin the procession, Keaton Jennings slicing to long off as he never quite locked on to a slower, wider delivery. Throughout the tour, whether over four days or one, the captain has got a start then got out.

Only Ben Duckett, who set up the innings with some brief, low-slung pillaging before he was yorked by Asitha Fernando, making room to drive, and Daniel Bell-Drummond, who provided a reflective half-century while wickets fell around him, could draw some satisfaction from this Lions batting display.

Bell-Drummond has received intense tuition about playing spin bowling from Graham Thorpe and Andy Flower in Dubai in the past two winters, and he knocked the ball around contentedly, but even he will have been frustrated by his edged drive to slip the over after he reached fifty.

The rest was a sorry affair. Jayasuriya took wickets in successive balls when he removed Tom Alsop, who cut a ball too close to him after ignoring a chance to cut earlier in the over, and Liam Livingstone for a duck. Livingstone's first-baller as he deflected to leg slip came after three exhausting innings in little more than a week so at least he could get out of the sun for a while. Jeffrey Vandersay made a legspinner bounce to have Joe Clarke caught at slip before Jayasuriya returned at the media end to defeat Ben Foakes on the sweep and remove Sam Curran, beaten in the flight, at first slip.

The Lions were purposeful in the field and, when Sri Lanka lost their third wicket at 95, in the 22nd over, they were actually worse off at the same stage. But Jayasuriya's range grew with every over, finishing with a fusillade of blows against Curran and Livingstone before falling to a lofted off-drive in the manner of a man who felt the match was as good as won.

That confidence might have wobbled briefly when England's spinners, Ollie Rayner and Livingstone, then took a wicket apiece, but a decent crowd in a ground starved of top-level cricket were able to celebrate the finish they wanted.

On three occasions, twice in Dambulla and now in Kurunegala, the Lions have been thoroughly outplayed on low, slow turners. England's capitulation in India when they fell 4-0 in the Test series and were also beaten in both one-day formats, deepened concern about their slow-bowling resources.

There are no easy remedies. A lack of top-class county spinners, it seems, has also naturally led to a generation of batsmen unpracticed in the art of playing slow bowling. The toss regulations introduced last season, which gave the visiting side first option to bowl, should help by controlling the reliance on green seamers, but it is a constant challenge to raise standards.

With three matches gone, hindsight suggests that it might have been wise for Tom Westley to remain with the squad after his success in the four-day matches. The departure of Tom Curran to join England's senior squad in the Caribbean was also unfortunate for the Lions because he was the seam bowler most adept at the change-ups so beneficial on such surfaces.

With the series won, Sri Lanka will take the chance to blood many others in Colombo. Danushka Gunathilaka has already joined the senior squad which faces Bangladesh in the first Test in Galle on Tuesday. They arrive with tales of a Lions side struggling to compete.

One English-born spinner is having a happy close-season, however. Mason Crane, the Hampshire legspinner, might conceivably have been on this trip, but instead he is playing Sydney grade cricket on an ECB Overseas Placement and receiving tuition from the former Australian leggie Stuart MacGill. With three seven-fors for Gordon to his name, he has been called into the New South Wales squad to face South Australia at the SCG and could become the first overseas player to represent NSW since Imran Khan in 1984.