Composed Alastair Cook the star of England's innings


Alastair Cook was in typically unflappable form as he batted through day two of England's warm-up match against a Sri Lankan Board XI on his way to 163 not out.

Cook has been the England lynchpin so often in the last 18 months, even in a one-day side that some argued he should not have been picked for, that his effort at the Premadasa Stadium hardly seemed out of the ordinary.

But to bat for over six and a half hours - and 294 balls - in sweltering heat and humidity in a total of 303 for eight showed mental and physical strength England will rely on in the forthcoming Test series.

While Cook's knock will please England, who lead by 134, they will be less happy with the brief time Ian Bell and Matt Prior spent at the crease as both men collected ducks.

Andrew Strauss (40) and Kevin Pietersen (39) enjoyed some success but, after struggling against Pakistan's slow bowlers, they will be disappointed at their dismissals to spin.

Cook nudged a single off the second ball of the morning to get off the mark and Strauss cut through point for four two overs later.

Strauss was looking to take on his favoured cut shot from the start, missing a couple of times but also bringing some early runs.

Cook was playing a more conservative game, but found the ropes for the first time with a punchy drive off Nilanka Premaratne.

Cook took four more off Premaratne when he offered some width outside off stump as England moved to 50 in 99 balls.

The occasional play and miss aside, Strauss and Cook looked well at ease as Prasanna Jayawardene overbowled his seamers in scorching heat.

When Jayawardene finally returned to spin, Strauss used his feet well to deposit Malinga Bandara over the top.

The skipper had looked comfortable all morning but was given lbw to Dilruwan Perera attempting to work him off the back foot before lunch.

Cook reached 50 at the start of the afternoon session, bringing up the mark in 112 balls.

His new partner, Jonathan Trott, lasted 35 deliveries and made 16 runs before he was given out lbw to Bandara.

Trott's reaction suggested he was unhappy with the verdict, but he eventually walked off to be replaced by Pietersen.

England's number four found the boundary from the fourth delivery he faced and then moved down the track to hit the same bowler, Perera, back over his head for four more.

He continued to add momentum to the innings, sweeping another boundary off Perera as Cook accumulated steadily at the other end.

The third-wicket pair eased England past their opponents' total but off-spinner Sachithra Serasinghe responded with two wickets in three balls.

First he halted Pietersen's entertaining knock at 39, then he bowled Bell for a two-ball duck.

Like Trott, Pietersen was visibly unhappy with his decision. Bell, having struggled badly against spin against Pakistan, simply seemed confused.

Cook had to endure a delay in the field on 98 but he was not about to let his hard-won century slip and waited calmly for the chance to whip one into the leg-side for three.

He had taken 220 deliveries to reach three figures, hitting six fours.

As soon as he had celebrated he immediately set about playing - and running - more aggressively.

But although he may have been ready to let someone else spend some time in the middle, he was the only man who was struggling to get out.

Ravi Bopara was lbw to Perera for 12 and Prior lasted just three balls before Kaniskha Alvitigala had him caught off the inside edge.

Bandara then accounted for Graeme Swann (six) and Steven Finn, who allowed a googly to crash straight into his pads for nought.

Cook looked on from the non-striker's end and carried on nudging his own total along while number 10 James Anderson put a hold on the collapse.

By stumps Cook was scoring with freedom, with Anderson unbeaten on 12.


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