By Rob Barnett
Contrasting fifties from Varun Chopra, James Taylor and Moeen Ali saw England Lions to a reasonable 299 for nine on day one of the ‘Test’ series with Sri Lanka A.
Of the trio, Taylor scored most steadily as his 70 occupied 118 balls. Chopra progressed more swiftly with 58 off 68 deliveries and Moeen’s 62 came at better than a run a ball.
However, from 206 for three when Taylor and Moeen were together, the tourists lost six wickets for 88 runs as spinners Chaturanga de Silva and Tharindu Kaushal plus Test seamer Dhammika Prasad each struck twice.
Scott Borthwick, who bats at three for Durham in the LV= County Championship, kept the innings going with a patient 35 from number eight, but the hosts will be most pleased with the first day of four at Pallekele.
Ahead of this opening game of three, Lions skipper Chris Woakes spoke of opportunities for all his players to stake a claim for senior international honours and Chopra, Taylor and Moeen responded best.
Once Upal Tharanga won the toss it was initially slow going for batsmen, seamer Ishan Jayaratne trapping Alex Lees in front for 10 in the 11th over and Prasad bowling Sam Robson for 17 in the 23rd.
Chopra injected some impetus with seven fours, a figure matched by Taylor, and they added 50 before Kaushal cleaned up the former.
Moeen, who struck a six and nine fours, then batted with purpose to dominate a smooth stand of 92 alongside Taylor, but was caught at cover off de Silva just after tea.
In the next over Jonny Bairstow was lbw for nought to a Prasad ball that appeared too high to be hitting the stumps and Woakes soon followed to the same bowler.
Borthwick dug in with Taylor, who was unfortunate to be given out caught behind to Kaushal when apparently set for a big score.
Liam Plunkett, a centurion in the second warm-up match, chipped in with 15 until being bowled by de Silva and Kaushal eventually pinned Borthwick in front, ending his 83-ball resistance.
Graham Onions, a recent call-up to the tour, and Tymal Mills saw the Lions through to stumps as Prasad and Kaushal each finished with three wickets.