Outside the charmingly ramshackle Sinhalese Sports Club ground yesterday a few dogs were spreadeagled on the pavement. They were presumably mad. There were a few Englishmen also out in the sun but that was because they had to be there after losing the toss to the Sri Lanka Development XI. A few unfamiliar things went on but nobody thought the wicketkeeper Matt Prior was crazy when he discarded his pads, so drenched in sweat were his flannels.
This was the tourists' second and final practice match before the start of the Test series next week and although the gruelling punishment in the searing heat may end up doing them good it will not have felt like it last night. The Development XI made 376 for 5 in the 90 overs available. They rattled along more or less at slightly above four runs an over on a lovely batting pitch designed to take the sting from any attack. The former Test batsman Chamara Silva assembled a sublime century.
When he was caught at fine leg playing shots devised for imminent dismissal, the bowler, Steve Finn, proffered a verbal sally which did not appear to be an invitation to dinner. In response, Silva pointed to the scoreboard which showed that he had made 163, an innings that included 25 fours and a six in its 180 balls.
Everything begins to suggest that the two-match series will not be easy for England and events yesterday will only have confused their plans. They will not have an XI settled in their minds before seeing the pitch at Galle where the first Test starts on Monday and recent evidence suggests it may be under-prepared. That may yet persuade them that the four-bowler attack, which has taken them to the summit of the Test rankings, can still prise out 20 wickets and leave enough time to win a match. But the sight of Graeme Swann being toyed with for much of the time as he went for 102 in 21 overs yesterday was hardly uplifting.
Swann never looked like taking a wicket, which is just about acceptable on a first-day batting paradise, but it would have been useful had he been able to contain the opposition a trifle. Not to dry them up but make them think more than once before dancing down to pierce the field or clear it. Swann's runs conceded all but matched the temperature.
It was as well for England that Stuart Broad not only proved himself fit to play despite his sprained ankle but also took wickets with the new ball at the start and end of the day.