There are countless ways for a young fast bowler to make an impression on his captain but none is better than knocking his middle stump out of the ground during practice. Stuart Broad did just that yesterday when Michael Vaughan returned for a second net session and the exchange has given the 21-year-old an excellent chance of making his Test debut in tomorrow's second Test here.
England have resigned themselves to the fact that Matthew Hoggard will not be fit to play. Hoggard batted at practice but the injury to his back he sustained during the first Test is still preventing him from bowling. Prior to the series there were suggestions that England would play two seamers and two spinners in Colombo and Galle but that now seems very unlikely, leaving Broad and Stephen Harmison competing for the final place in England's XI.
If England base their decision on the form of both bowlers during practice, and it has to be because there is no other way of assessing how well they are bowling, it is a straightforward decision. Harmison may have taken more than 200 Test wickets and his bowling may possess greater spite but his young apprentice has outbowled him in almost every practice session that has taken place on the tour.
There is an outside chance both Broad and Harmison will play at the Sinhalese Sports Club, where Sri Lanka have lost only six of the 29 matches they have played. James Anderson is under pressure for his place and Ryan Sidebottom missed practice yesterday with a heavy cold. Sidebottom is expected to be OK but Anderson was the most expensive of England's fast bowlers in the defeat at Kandy, taking 2 for 167 in the match and conceding more than four runs an over.
Anderson's left ankle was giving him a few problems yesterday too, and if England are to play an erratic fast bowler that yields too many runs and has a niggle or two why not play Harmison, because the occasional ball he does get right is far more likely to take a wicket than his team-mate.
If England are to have any chance of getting back in the three-Test series they will need to take 20 wickets here, a challenge that proved too much for them on their last tour here four years ago when Sri Lanka amassed 628 for 8 in their only innings of the match. With that total in mind, and the innings defeat it caused, England's prospects do not sound particularly good, but there are reasons for some optimism.
In the last four Tests here the opening innings of the match has yielded fewer than 286 runs. Fast bowlers have taken wickets, suggesting there is something in the pitch early on, and Vaughan is due to win a toss. If, and it is quite a big if, Vaughan calls correctly and England bowl as well as they did in Kandy they could work themselves into a similar position to that in the hill country. Once there, though, they must hammer home the advantage and not allow Sri Lanka back in the match.
"I saw enough from us in the first Test to believe that we can put them under pressure, providing we play to the top of our game," said Peter Moores, the England coach, yesterday. "If we can place Sri Lanka under pressure there is some fragility there that we can expose. If we can sustain pressure on them with the ball we can make inroads, and we have to be able to sustain what they put on us when we bat.
"Playing against people like Kumar Sangakkara (who scored 244 runs in the first Test) who is at the top of his game is part of the fun. If you want to get people out easily go and play Third XI cricket. The job is to play against good players on good pitches in tough conditions and deliver. If you do you can then walk away at the end and say: 'I have done something special.'"
Moores believes that his bowlers will have learnt from the experience in Kandy and will react as they did in October when they unexpectedly won a one-day series here. "In October we thought we had bowled well until we saw them bowl," he explained. "But we didn't vary our pace as much as we should have or change the lines we bowled. I think the bowlers are going through a similar learning experience now.
"In the first innings in Kandy it was very English conditions the ball swung and seamed around. In the second innings it was different and we have to find ways to deliver under those conditions if we are going to win. Their seamers were a little bit more inventive and we have to show a bit more savvy, be more streetwise, find other ways of attacking."
Broad is only 21 but he could offer those qualities. There is a purpose about his cricket that is currently lacking in Harmison, who appears lost and desperate to find the spark that may return him to the bowler he was. Yet England seem reluctant to give Broad his chance. They know they have something special but want to make sure he is physically ready for the challenge that no doubt awaits him.
"Stuart is adaptable and he has the happy knack of taking wickets, and he is getting stronger all the time," said Moores. "Part of Stuart's thing is getting the physical strength to deliver his skills over a decent period of time, in what are quite harsh conditions.
"That is what he is working at. It is partly skills, partly physical. He needs to be able to bowl three spells in a day over a five-day Test. Playing him here would be pushing him to the limit but I do think he is ready to play. I think he has one Test in him but playing three in a row would be challenging for him. He is a strong-willed and determined lad with a lot in the locker."
The retirement of Sanath Jayasuriya has forced Sri Lanka to make one change to their side. Upul Tharanga, who scored 112 and 86 against England in their warm-up matches, will replace Jayasuriya.
Possible teams: Sri Lanka: DPMD Jayawardene (c), WU Tharanga, MG Vandort, KC Sangakkara, LPC Silva, J Mubarak, HAPW Jayawardene, WPUJC Vaas, CRD Fernando, SL Malinga, M Muralitharan.
England: MP Vaughan (c), AN Cook, IR Bell, KP Pietersen, PD Collingwood, RS Bopara, MJ Prior, SCJ Broad, RJ Sidebottom, JM Anderson, MS Panesar.
It's a big game for James Anderson
Anderson is fast becoming an enigmatic figure. The 25-year-old bowled without much luck in Kandy, deserving more than his two wickets. But among the good balls are far too many poor ones that good players can put away for four. He needs to develop consistency and he needs to do it fast you can be unlucky some but not all of the time. If he does not perform, players like Stuart Broad and Chris Tremlett will race past him.
Stephen Brenkley and Angus Fraser discuss tomorrow's play at independent.co.uk/thetestReuse content