Marvan Atapattu, Sri Lanka's batting coach, admitted his bowlers had lost their grip after a flying start to the second Test at Lord's, but backed his rejigged attack to fight back in a crucial first hour on the second day.
After winning the toss under cloudless skies, Sri Lanka's captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, sprang something of a surprise when he elected to bowl first, but his faith in his seamers was immediately justified as England slipped to 22 for 3 inside the day's first eight overs. Two further breakthroughs put Sri Lanka in charge after tea on 201 for 5, but Eoin Morgan and Matt Prior wrestled control back for England with a pair of flowing half-centuries.
"Up until tea, I thought we won the first two sessions, but we lost a bit of grip after the tea interval," said Atapattu. "Giving up 170 runs at 4.9 [an over] is not good enough having won the toss. But it was all about getting important early wickets in the morning. We lost momentum in the last session but it doesn't mean we can't come back into the game."
Although England's captain, Andrew Strauss, had hinted he might also have bowled first, Sri Lanka's decision seemed to have been influenced by their capitulation in the final session at Cardiff, where they were bowled out for 82 in 24.4 overs. Atapattu, however, insisted that with the quality of batting in his team's top-order, this was not the case, as shown by the decision not to add an extra batsman to the line-up.
"At this level you can't keep hiding people," he said. "We have three batsmen [Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera] - ranked in first ten in the ICC rankings. It was just one of those bad days that we experienced in Cardiff, and we have to put that behind us and move forward.
"The brand of cricket Sri Lanka plays is to win, and that's the reason we have six batsmen and five bowlers here," he said. "When we had [Chaminda] Vaas and [Muttiah] Muralitharan we could rely on them to take wickets, but now we have the young brigade and we have given them the extra bowler. We play to win and hopefully this will turn out to be one of those important games for us."
Sri Lanka's aggression looked set to be rewarded when England's top order fell cheaply to Suranga Lakmal and Chanaka Welegedara, and Atapattu bought into the sense of optimism on the field. "At tea I thought 300 is a good total, and thought we can make those runs, go past, and get a lead. Now that Prior has batted well, and our bowlers perhaps didn't bowl the lines they wanted to, we missed a trick or two. It now looks like under 400 would be good."
In addition to the left-armer Welegedara, Sri Lanka recalled the hostile Dilhara Fernando, who had been ruled out of the Cardiff Test with knee trouble. He extracted Alastair Cook via a loose pull on 96, and bowled 13 overs in the day, but none with in the closing stages of the day while his team-mates were toiling. Atapattu, however, brushed off any injury concerns, and said that the decision had been tactical.
"Fernando is basically not a line and length bowler," said Atapattu. "He can hurry the batsmen, and we use him to disturb the batsmen in terms of rhythm, but he's not a Welegedara or a Lakmal. He's not been a new-ball bowler."