England rally after rain relents
England had Graeme Swann and ‘Hot Spot’ to thank for a fightback which brought them late cheer on the opening day of the international summer.
It may have been almost five months ago, but England’s Ashes triumph in Australia represented their last action in the Test arena before they opened their summer campaign against Sri Lanka at Cardiff today.
If the memories of that historic trip - not to mention the weather Down Under - faded somewhat as rain wiped out the first half of the day in the opening npower Test, they became fainter still as Sri Lanka’s openers prospered either side of tea during a stand of 93.
However, off-spinner Swann succeeded where the pace bowlers failed by removing Tillakaratne Dilshan for 50, and Kumar Sangakkara was adjudged caught behind off James Anderson - on the evidence of technology - shortly after.
Sri Lanka were therefore grateful to reach the close without further loss on 133 for two after 48 overs, leaving what is shaping up to be an intriguing match evenly poised heading into the second day.
Tharanga Paranavitana will resume tomorrow on 58, still harbouring hopes of a third century in as many matches on tour and with Mahela Jayawardene for company.
The largely restrained manner in which Paranavitana and company batted suggested they have the patience - and, no less importantly, technique - to prosper in early-season English conditions.
Even taking into account their Swann-induced wobble, that should serve as notice to those who dismissed Sri Lanka as a mere stepping stone on England’s intended path to number one in the Test rankings.
Conditions today were distinctly closer to their own than Sri Lanka might have imagined - a generally slow, low surface offered minimal seam movement - but there was enough swing to provide encouragement to England’s pace trio.
An early breakthrough eluded them, however, when the rain which fell intermittently this morning finally allowed play to get under way at 3.30pm, an hour and a quarter after Dilshan won the toss.
Anderson was initially the pick of England’s three-pronged pace attack - he conceded just seven runs from seven overs before tea - but Stuart Broad was slashed over backward point and thumped on the up through cover by Dilshan as he continued to search for the optimum length.
Initially more reliant than his partner on the outside edge, Paranavitana grew in confidence to punch Chris Tremlett, who was preferred to Steven Finn, through point.
It was left to Swann, introduced after 26 overs, to make the first incursion, bowling Dilshan via his bottom edge as the batsman, moments after bringing up a 92-ball half-century, attempted to cut a delivery that demanded a straighter bat.
Sangakkara managed a sumptuous cover drive at Anderson’s expense before he was drawn into playing at one angled across him. Although Aleem Dar turned down the appeal, there was enough of a noise to convince England to review the decision - and have it overturned despite Sangakkara’s obvious displeasure.
There were occasional moments of alarm for Paranavitana, who twice saw thick edges fall just short of gully as England’s tactic of bowling short met with limited success.
However, he brought up a determined half-century - in his first Test on these shores - three overs before the close. That it took him 144 balls demonstrated the resilience England must break tomorrow.