Sri Lanka 65 for 3 (Chandimal 22*, Mathews 17*) vs England
Stuart Broad could have been forgiven if, in the early moments of this Test, he reflected on the wisdom of the phrase ‘careful what you wish for’.
For by then, England had lost what was anticipated to be an important toss and been sentenced to bowl first on a surface expected to deteriorate. And, by then, any hope that England’s seamers might have had that recent unseasonable rain in the region would provide them with some assistance had been dispelled. The ball resolutely refused to budge, off the pitch or in the air, in those opening overs.
Might Broad, who had memorably railed against the decision to leave him out of the team at the start of the English international summer, have allowed his mind to drift to the dressing room and wonder whether James Anderson, left out of the side for this game, was the luckier of the veteran pairing?
Probably not. Broad is nothing if not competitive and probably wouldn’t entertain such negative thoughts. And despite going into this match with a gruesome record in Sri Lanka – his three wickets, across three previous tours, had come at a cost of 83 apiece – he used all his experience and all his skill to find a way to contribute on the first morning of this game.
Recognising that his usual ploy to left-handers – going round the wicket, aiming at off stump, and persuading the odd ball to leave the bat – was not going to work on this surface, he instead started to improvise.
Angling the ball into the left-handers, he was soon rewarded as Lahiru Thirimanne, attempting to nudge the ball off his hip, succeeded only in guiding the ball to Jonny Bairstow at leg gully, before Kusal Mendis, coming off a gruesome run of form, was drawn into feeling for a cutter well outside off stump just two deliveries later.
It was Mendis’s fourth successive duck and means he has been dismissed five times from his most recent 13 balls in Test cricket without scoring a run.
Worse was to follow for Sri Lanka when Kusal Perera greeted the introduction of spin by attempting to reverse-sweep Dom Bess‘s second delivery. Perera’s range of stroke and ability to put pressure on the bowlers is a strength of his game, but this looked an odd – and probably inappropriate – response to his side having lost two wickets in the first seven overs. Perera succeeded only in scuffing the ball to first slip off his glove.
Perera had previously enjoyed two moments of fortune. Before he scored, he survived a leg before appeal from Sam Curran which replays showed was just clipping his leg stump, while he might also have been fortunate to survive a top-edged pull off Broad. Jack Leach, at deep backward square leg, was unable to pick up the trajectory of the ball and allowed it to fall safely to ground.
It might have been even worse for Sri Lanka. England’s debutant Dan Lawrence, at cover, put down Dinesh Chandimal on 22 as he attempted to flay one from Leach through the off side. It was, by the standards of Test cricket, a straightforward chance and it would have reduced Sri Lanka to 61 for 4 had it been taken.
It had been a difficult morning for Sri Lanka even before the toss. Their captain, Dimuth Karunaratne, had been ruled out of the game as the result of a hand injury sustained during the Test series in South Africa. While he had been confident of being fit for this match, it is understood he suffered a recurrence of pain after training the day before the game and was forced to withdraw. His involvement in the second Test must also be in doubt.
His stand-in as captain, Chandimal, at least won the toss. But that was probably the high watermark of his side’s morning as his batsmen were unable to take advantage in a session curtailed by numerous interruptions due to issues with sidescreens. Angelo Mathews suffered a broken bat and a blow to the upper body as Mark Wood generated sharp pace – up to 92 mph at times – and while he and Chandimal had steadied things with an unbroken partnership of 40 by the interval, England would have been the happier of the sides. Broad, in particular, could be delighted with his work: in these conditions, a seamer really doesn’t have much to work with. To define the course of the session was testament to his desire, his skill and his remarkable ability to keep learning and improving. It might be remembered that, on England’s last tour in 2018, Broad and Anderson took one wicket between them in the three Tests.
Earlier England had announced that Lawrence would make his debut. He was presented with his Test cap – number 697 – by his former Essex captain, James Foster, who is with the squad in his role as wicketkeeping consultant.
As expected, England opted for just two specialist spinners, in Bess and Leach, and three seamers. With Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali all absent for various reasons and Ben Foakes not selected despite being player of the series on England’s last tour of Sri Lanka, it means there are only four survivors in their team from the side that won in Sri Lanka in 2018. England have lost the first Test in five of their last six series.
The England side wore black armbands in memory of John Edrich, Robin Jackman and Dom Smith, all former England Test cricketers who sadly passed away recently.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo