Batty wins the battle of the spinners
England's Test warm-up match duly petered out into a soggy draw, as Colombo's notorious weather closed in on the dot of half past three, as it has been doing with atomic precision all tour
Close Sri Lanka Cricket President's XI
181 and 135 for 4 (Vandort 42) drew with England
314 for 9 dec (Butcher 151*)
Ashley Giles is bowled by Chamila Gamage
© Getty Images 2003
England's Test warm-up match duly petered out into a soggy draw, as Colombo's notorious weather closed in on the dot of half past three, as it has been doing with atomic precision all tour. Nevertheless, England made productive use of what little play was available to them, and by the time the heavens opened, their first-Test plans were taking shape nicely.
The biggest bonus for England was the form of Mark Butcher, the one member of their top five who did not feature on that triumphant tour of Sri Lanka in 2000-01. Butcher converted his overnight 105 into an unbeaten 151, and slipped effortlessly back into the touch and timing that he had worked towards on the second day. For the second time in the match, he brought up a personal landmark with a six, by slog-sweeping Ranil Dhammika over square-leg and out of the ground. England immediately declared on 314 for 9, a lead of 133, with an hour to go until lunch.
The morning did not go entirely England's way, however. The Sri Lankans took advantage of a bottom-heavy tail to chip away four wickets, and by lunch Michael Vandort and Dhammika Sudarshana had rattled along to 52 for 0 after 11 overs. Vandort was in particularly murderous touch, with seven fours in his first 34 runs, although as far as England were concerned, the real contest of the day was an internal one.
James Kirtley sent out another timely reminder of his abilities, as Sudarshana was trapped lbw with a straight one that kept low, but thereafter it was over to the spinners. Ashley Giles, Gareth Batty and Robert Croft are all fighting for the right to play in next week's first Test at Galle, and to all intents and purposes it appears that Croft will be the one to miss out.
Croft's face had earlier looked like thunder when he was adjudged lbw for a second-ball duck. Now he was required to bowl in thunder as well, as the rain began to fall just as he was marking out his run-up. It seemed like a belated gesture from Andrew Flintoff, but Croft grabbed his opportunity and the wicket of Bathiya Perera as well, caught behind by Chris Read for 1 (110 for 4).
But it is unlikely to be enough at this stage of the series. Giles and Batty are the men in possession, and both of them showed enough form and thoughtfulness to merit their inclusions. Batty was the pick, extracting handy turn in an economical spell, and picking up the big wicket of Vandort as well, who was drawn down the pitch and looped a violent drive into the hands of Kirtley at point (62 for 2).
Giles was slightly more expensive, although he recovered well from being struck for six and four in consecutive balls by Chamara Silva. In the same over, he found some extra turn and bounce, and Graham Thorpe took a comfortable catch at slip (103 for 3). Giles had earlier stolen a march on his rivals with the bat as well, sweeping and driving his way to 30 from 35 balls, including five fours and a six. It made a contrast to the remainder of England's tail, who contributed nine runs between them.
After an eyecatching display of wicketkeeping, Geraint Jones spoiled a good match with an ill-judged hoick through midwicket off Dilhara Fernando, which resulted in his leg-bail being sent pinging 30 yards behind the stumps (229 for 6). Butcher then survived his one chance of the day, a swirling clip, again off Fernando, that Perera couldn't quite gather at backward square-leg.
It was the only other sniff that the Sri Lankans got in the first hour, as Giles responded to Croft's threat with a fine display of controlled aggression. He was eventually undone by Chamila Gamage, who bowled him off the inside edge as he pushed for the declaration, before Croft himself fell lbw to Dhammika, despite appearing to get an inside edge.
Hoggard did not last long either, an angled four through third-man was followed by another lbw decision, this time to Gamage, who finished with 2 for 47 from 13 overs. But Butcher brought up his 150 with a six, as England declared with an hour to go until lunch.