Morgan and Patel fire timely tons
Eoin Morgan and Samit Patel took centre stage with unbeaten centuries as England Lions registered 394 for four against Sri Lanka on the first day at Derby.
The fifth-wicket pair, who have thus far put on an unbroken 232, closed on 156 and 101 respectively having delivered timely reminders of their abilities ahead of the first npower Test next week.
In the presence of national selector Geoff Miller and England team director Andy Flower, James Taylor was first to show his prowess with a gritty contribution after being pushed up from the middle-order position he inhabits for Leicestershire to open.
The Lions, put in on a bouncy pitch under only fair-weather cloud at the start of this four-day fixture, were indebted to Taylor - who withstood a lively new-ball attack and set the tone for a day which would showcase England’s back-up batting resources.
Taylor soon knew he was in for a battle when Nuwan Pradeep struck him a painful blow in the box in only the third over. Thisara Perera then made the first breakthrough in the next by yorking Jimmy Adams.
Ravi Bopara had two close calls, first when Mahela Jayawardene put down a routine catch at second slip off Perera.
Then on eight, Bopara stood his ground and was given not out by umpire Peter Hartley when Pradeep was convinced he had him caught behind on the back-foot defence.
But first-change Dilhara Fernando soon got one to climb on the number three, and there was no escape this time as he fenced a catch behind on 17.
Skipper James Hildreth joined Taylor in a half-century stand either side of lunch. Taylor played only a smattering of memorable shots, including two driven sixes from Suraj Randiv’s off-spin, but precious few poor ones either.
Hildreth went more readily to extremes before the slingy Pradeep got one through his defences to knock back off stump on 35.
A safe edge wide of the slips put Morgan in credit first ball, after which he was impressively unhurried on his return to the longer format following his Indian Premier League stint.
Taylor, who added 57 with Morgan, had hit seven fours en route to 76 to go with his two sixes from 137 balls when Fernando found extra bounce and convinced umpire Tim Robinson, if not the batsman, that he must go caught behind.
The makeshift opener had done much necessary hard work, and three figures would have been fair reward. Instead, it was to be Morgan and Patel who cashed in.
Left-hander Morgan, previously without a first-class century since his maiden Test hundred at Trent Bridge last summer, was chanceless on his way to reach three figures from 128 deliveries.
There were 12 mostly well-timed fours, one mishit six hooked over his and the wicketkeeper’s head off Fernando and another struck meatily over long-on off Tharanga Paranavitana’s part-time off-spin.
Patel did his prospects no harm with 14 fours in his 131-ball hundred. There were blemishes on 66 and then 72 when the usually reliable Jayawardene dropped his second slip catch of the day and Kumar Sangakkara was also culpable in the deep, both former captains spilling chances off new incumbent Tillakaratne Dilshan’s off-spin.
But Morgan and Patel simply became more assured and adventurous, and displayed a mastery in increasingly benign conditions.
Morgan afterwards accepted there is nothing more he can do to convince England’s selectors that he should get the nod for the retired Paul Collingwood’s spot at Cardiff.
“The selectors were here today. Whoever plays well will probably play (in the first Test),” he said. “I’ve no idea what they are thinking. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed.”
“I’ve only practised a couple of days since I got back. Today to get some time in the middle has been really good.
“I’m quite fresh. I’ve had a lot of cricket under my belt so I feel quite comfortable at the crease, but it’s nice to get some runs and spend time in the middle.”
Morgan, who scored more today than his combined IPL total for the last month, made light of the difficulty of switching codes and continents, in deed and then word.
“I don’t think it’s a big challenge - you play every ball as you see it,” he added. “The experience in the IPL has been invaluable, playing under a lot of pressure and in high-pressure situations.
“I think I learnt a lot out there. I brushed shoulders with legends of the game and learnt a lot from them.”