There is a feeling abroad that Sri Lanka are here for the taking. It is a mystery why this should be but it is indubitably so.
The lack of incisive bowling in the tourists' ranks may be at its crux. They no longer have Chaminda Vaas, Lasith Malinga, who has retired prematurely from Test matches, or most tellingly Muttiah Muralitharan.
But it ignores recent precedent. The last time Sri Lanka were in England they drew the Test series 1-1 and won the one-day series 5-0 in a blaze of strokeplay. The last time the teams met, in the World Cup quarter-final in March, Sri Lanka won resoundingly by 10 wickets.
For the taking? Somebody may be taking the mick. It was probably as well then that their new captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, opened proceedings with a resplendent hundred against Middlesex yesterday, which made a pertinent point.
Dilshan has carved out a singular reputation in the one-day arena – he scored an undefeated 108 in that crushing World Cup defeat of England – and has had a shot, the Dilscoop, named after him when most players settle for a stand at their home ground if they are lucky. But he has 11 Test hundreds and plenty of elegantly conventional shots as well.
Apart from the cold – although even that might have helped him become accustomed – he had perfect practice conditions, offered by a raw attack and a benign pitch. He began with a searing cut and before long he took 13 from the first over bowled in first-class cricket by Gurjit Sandhu and 14 in another from the left-arm spin of Tom Smith.
There was a century, too, capably if not quite so nonchalantly compiled, for his Test opening partner, Tharanga Paranavitana. Two years ago, Paranavitana had the unfortunate distinction of being dismissed by his first ball in Test cricket but has since atoned and averages 37.
Both retired to give an opportunity to two players who may be in the frame for the troublesome No 6 spot in the Test team, Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal. They too were untroubled.
The Sri Lankans declared at 309 for 2, 61 behind, though no Middlesex bowler had taken a wicket. The nearest they came was when Jamie Dalrymple, making his first-class return to the county after three years with Glamorgan, put down Dilshan, on 10, at second slip off Anthony Ireland, the former Gloucestershire seamer.
There was a harder chance offered by Dilshan to Andrew Strauss at point after he had added another 104, but otherwise virtually nothing.
Although they are without five of their party, who are still performing in the Indian Premier League, including their glittering early middle order, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, this is precisely the sort of gentle start Dilshan and his team might have wished. For Strauss, too, who made 151 on the first day, it has been an untaxing but significant start.
So both captains hit the ground running. Strauss might also have appreciated the opportunity to see some of his adversaries at close quarters. He will be taking nothing lightly.Reuse content