Dilshan's delights give some hope to Sri Lanka

England Lions 493-8dec Sri Lanka 266 & 392-6 (Sri Lanka lead by 165 runs)
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The Independent Online

Most of Sri Lanka's realistic aspirations in Test matches now rest with their prodigious batting. Gone are the days when they could come to England, throw the ball to Muttiah Muralitharan and watch him make their opponents squirm.

He was the key figure in both their Test victories in this country, in 1998 when he took 16 wickets, and in 2006, when he took 11. But he has departed the international scene, content to sample the dubious delights of Twenty20. Now Sri Lanka must rely exclusively on applying scoreboard pressure: make a pile of runs quickly enough and maybe it will give the bowlers enough latitude. Some hope, but not much.

Their batting in the first innings against England Lions augured badly and they were invited to follow on yesterday 227 behind. To which challenge, the settled openers, Tillakaratne Dilshan, their new captain, and Tharanga Paranavitana, responded with a first-wicket partnership of 200.

It was their second double-century partnership in successive matches, following the 209 they shared against Middlesex last Sunday.

Dilshan was brutal through the off side, slashing square anything with width, of which there was rather too much, and unfurling some breathtaking cover drives. Paranavitana was more studious, but also pleasantly effective on the off side.

They have opened the batting in 10 successive Test matches since Dilshan found a new lease of life in the longer game by moving up from the middle order. Although they have some way to go to match Sri Lanka's most enduring opening pair, Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu, they average a healthy 47 per innings.

It was a blustery day at the County Ground and the pitch, greener than a Britain's Got Talent contestant on the first day, had dried out. Seam movement was harder to come by, though not as elusive as swing.

If Dilshan and Paranavitana can give Sri Lanka this kind of start in the Test series, it will open the way for the illustrious middle order, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera, who have more than 22,000 Test runs between them.

This did not work ideally yesterday after Dilshan's innings of 117 from 110 balls was ended by a vicious rising ball from Steve Finn. Sangakkara did not settle before being bowled off an inside edge by Finn, stuck in the crease, and although Jayawardene was characteristically elegant in all he did, he was undone by a peach from Ajmal Shahzad which breached his groping defences.

Paranavitana grew more circumspect but by the time he was caught at point by James Taylor for 125, having faced 216 balls, his preparations for Cardiff could be said to be complete.

Although they went at more than five an over, there was plenty to like about the Lions' bowling. Finn worked up a head of steam in eight overs from the Pavilion End after lunch and Shahzad, who followed him, produced some beauties. Still, the most important overs may have come from Ravi Bopara if he is to be the fifth bowling option for England next week and he did a sterling job into the wind.

Sri Lanka gathered enough to make the Lions bat again today but not enough to stave off defeat or to suggest they can win Test matches.