Day one of the first warm-up match against a strong Sri Lanka Board XI saw the tourists toil for almost 90 overs but beyond acclimatisation to the energy-sapping conditions it was hard to determine what they will take from the experience.
By close of play the scoreboard read 392-9 – though the unforced retirements of Kaushal Silva (62), Sadeera Samarawickrama (58) and Ashan Priyanjan (50) gave that a cosier look than England’s efforts warranted.
It was a curious outing in many ways, throughout which England’s plans for next week’s Test in Galle became more opaque.
Spinner Jack Leach was surprisingly left out of a 14-strong line-up, wicket-keeping duties were split three ways between Jos Buttler, Ben Foakes and Ollie Pope and all-rounder Ben Stokes spent long periods working in the nets without bowling a single over on the pitch.
There were also inconclusive showings from most of the eight bowlers who were used.
Stuart Broad, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes could be vying for one place in the XI next week but none made a compelling case to be chosen, making it a good day for the overlooked Olly Stone.
Woakes was the only one of the three to take a wicket but also the most expensive at five an over, Broad struggled to utilise the new ball and Curran’s left-arm swing barely materialised in unhelpful conditions. In the spin department Moeen Ali was his usual reliable self, taking two of England’s five wickets, but Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid again struggled to recreate his limited-overs form with the red ball.
The leg-spinner was a star performer in the recent one-day and Twenty20 leg of the trip but lacked control at times here.
He shipped 11 boundaries en route to figures of 1-82 and failed to consistently find his best length.
By the time England took the new ball and handed it to Rashid and part-timer Joe Denly, things had taken on a distinctly surreal appearance, although the latter snared an lbw with the day’s final delivery.
Denly went for 48 in 8.5 overs, dropped opener Lahiru Thirimanne on 11 and was overtly targeted by Angelo Mathews (45) meaning he will need a big showing with the bat if he is to keep pressing for a Test debut.
“It was a good batting wicket, there wasn’t a lot of spin,” said Moeen, whose 2-64 represented England’s best return.
“Hopefully, the wickets are a bit different in the Test matches. I hope they spin a lot more for everybody. This was quite slow, a dead sort of pitch.
“If you look at the previous Test matches here they’ve all been spinning big and probably not as flat as this wicket.
“It’s not a concern, they scored a bit more than we would like but the guys needed to get overs in their legs.”
On the wicket-keeping duties which were shared three ways, Moeen admitted it was another example of competition for places in next week’s opening Test being very healthy among the tourists’ squad.
“I think there are (places to play for) definitely,” added Moeen.
“It’s the balance of the team – are we going to play three spinners? Two spinners? What seamers are going to play? Do you need pace or control?
“That’s for the coach and captain to decide.”
England will bat for a full day today, regardless of wickets lost, with a chance to see a new-look top three of Rory Burns, Keaton Jennings and Joe Denly.
“We’re going to have to play well and I think we’ve got the players to do that,” explained Moeen.
“I do think it’s a very good wicket but it’s more about guys spending time in the middle. You saw they had a couple of guys retire and maybe we’ll do the same.”
The Australian Cricketers’ Association has called for Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft to have their bans reduced following a review of Cricket Australia. The three players were handed bans by CA in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal during the Test series against South Africa this year.
There was international outcry after Bancroft was caught on camera attempting to change the condition of the ball using sandpaper, while senior players Smith and Warner were also implicated.
The fallout saw a review commissioned into the governing body, during which CA was heavily criticised for the culture within Australian cricket and the ACA has called for a reduction in the bans handed out to the three batsmen as a result.
“Yes, this moment of madness was ‘individual’ but now there is evidence and independent verification of system failure as well,” said president Greg Dyer.
“This is hugely significant.
“With this new information common sense, common decency, basic fairness, proportionality and natural justice demand that the punishment is reduced.
“The players have already lost time in the game, chances to play for Australia, endured public humiliation and faced massive financial penalties.
“My message to Cricket Australia is a simple one: These contrite men have been punished enough. Let these contrite men play. The ACA will be relentless in pursuing this end.”