England face struggle to make up for lost time

President's XI 181 & 135-4 England 314-9 dec Match drawn
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The Independent Online

England are in severe danger of being underprepared for the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle next Tuesday after rain caused a premature end to their match against the Sri Lanka Cricket President's XI here for the third day in a row.

Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Richard Johnson, three players certain to play in Galle, chose to sit out England's final warm-up game and Mark Butcher, Ashley Giles, James Kirtley and Andrew Flintoff were the only four players to have truly benefited from these three days.

Heavy rain in Colombo had turned the one-day series into a farce and the fact that Vaughan's side have played only 45 per cent of the cricket they were intended to play since arriving here two weeks ago will not have been lost on the England coach, Duncan Fletcher.

Fletcher, whose policy of resting players before big matches continues to receive heavy criticism (even though it has proved to be correct on the majority of occasions), will frantically attempt to make up for lost time during the next three days but the quality of his side's preparations will once again depend on the overhead conditions.

England travel to Galle this morning and Fletcher will be fully aware that Tuesday's encounter could be as one-sided as the one-day defeat in Dambulla if his players do not get the practice they require.

The possible shortage of match practice did not appear to affect Mark Butcher. Unbeaten on 105 overnight, the Surrey opener continued to make the most of his extended stay at the crease and effortlessly moved past 150 in the same way he brought up his hundred on Thursday - with a six. After watching his star batsman clear the boundary for the third time, and with only Kirtley left to bat, Flintoff decided that England would be better off using the remainder of the day as bowling practice.

Before Flintoff declared, Butcher received excellent support from Giles. Prior to this match the Warwickshire left-armer was under pressure to show he was still England's leading spinner and many perceived this match to be a shoot-out for two Test places between himself, Gareth Batty and Robert Croft. Giles, however, confirmed his status as England's premier slow bowler with four good wickets and 30 useful runs down the bottom of the order. After looking in very little trouble and following several sumptuous shots, it was a surprise to everyone when he chopped a drive from Chamila Gamage Lakshitha on to his stumps.

Coming into this match Croft was the bowler with the most to gain. A fortnight ago, he was sitting in Swansea twiddling his thumbs but a late call-up had given him the chance to put Giles and Batty under some pressure. But he had a match to forget. Wicketless in the President XI's first innings, the Glamorgan all-rounder was then given out lbw for a duck, sweeping at a ball from Ranil Dhammika.

Walking off, he cut a sorry figure but he would have known well before the umpire's finger dubiously went up that his chance had gone. A smile did return to his face when he took a late wicket but he will now only get in the Test side should one of the other two fall foul of form, injury or illness.

The rain failed to dampen the spirits of England's stand-in captain. "It was a shame we could not get a full match in," Flintoff said. "But we have got some valuable match practice in. The bowlers managed to get some mileage in their legs, the batsmen have spent some time in the middle and that is what we needed going into next week's Test match.

"I think we have prepared well for the Test series. We have done a lot of training, we have spent time in the nets and we have played this game. I think come next Tuesday in Galle we will be ready to go. We can have no excuses. We have been out here a long time."

Flintoff was made captain when Vaughan and Trescothick decided not to play, but the order in which the Lancashire all-rounder used his bowlers told a story. Early on, it became obvious that Croft was not in contention for Galle because Giles and Batty were brought on before him in each innings.

However, it was the way he handled the fast bowlers that caused more interest. Before this game Kirtley was only playing to make up the numbers but by the end he was bowling more often than Matthew Hoggard. Flintoff played this down at the end of the match, but it is hard to believe he would not have talked these things through with Fletcher or Vaughan before walking out on to the field.


Sri Lanka Cricket President's XI won toss


ENGLAND - First Innings

(Overnight: 225-5)

M A Butcher not out 151

N Hussain b C R D Fernando 0

G P Thorpe c Peiris b C R D Fernando 35

*A Flintoff c Lakshitha b W M B Perera 47

C M W Read run out 3

G J Batty run out 8

ÝG O Jones b C R D Fernando 5

A F Giles b Lakshitha 30

R D B Croft lbw b Dhammika 0

M J Hoggard lbw b Lakshitha 4

R J Kirtley not out 0

Extras (b4 lb11 nb16) 31

Total (9 wkts dec, 71.3 overs) 314

Fall: 1-3 2-96 3-189 4-200 5-211 6-229 7-284 8-285 9-294.

Bowling: C R D Fernando 21-6-79-3; Ranjith 7-0-57-0; Lakshitha 13-4-47-2; Samaraweera 14-4-51-0; Dhammika 14.3-2-58-1; W M B Perera 2-1-7-1.

PRESIDENT'S XI - Second Innings

M G Vandort c Kirtley b Batty 42

T K D Sudarshana lbw b Kirtley 19

L P C Silva c Thorpe b Giles 31

T T Samaraweera not out 18

W M B Perera c Read b Croft 1

ÝT R Peiris not out 19

Extras (b2 lb2 nb1) 5

Total (4 wkts, 44 overs) 135

Fall: 1-57 2-62 3-103 4-110.

Did Not Bat: *R P Arnold, D G R Dhammika, M K G C P Lakshitha, P N Ranjith, C R D Fernando.

Bowling: Hoggard 5-0-22-0; Kirtley 6-1-22-1; Batty 13-2-29-1; Giles 8-2-31-1; Flintoff 5-1-9-0; Croft 7-2-18-1.

Umpires: A G Dissanayake and C B C Rodrigo.