Fernando ups pace as Sri Lanka victory sends Test warning

England Lions 493-8 dec & 183 Sri Lanka 266 & 448
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The Independent Online

Dress rehearsals are what you make them. They can be harbingers of doom, opportunities for last-minute flaws to be eradicated or confirmation that you have a copper-bottomed hit on your hands.

Over four days against England Lions, effectively the country's second team, Sri Lanka became more acquainted with the necessities of the forthcoming production and by the end had not only stopped fluffing their lines but were also improvising beautifully. Who knows? They might yet defy all predictions.

Having been asked to follow on 227 runs behind, the tourists went on to win their second warm-up match before the Test series by 38 runs. They were dismissed for 448 in their second innings on the final morning, leaving the Lions 222 to win from a maximum of 73 overs. It was neatly poised and, in conditions which demanded consultation of the Beaufort scale to check whether a breeze was turning into something stronger, Sri Lanka made regular incursions.

The Lions might have rued their decision to impose the follow-on, perhaps the only way Sri Lanka could win, but then again they cannot for a moment have assumed they would lose. Nothing had seemed less likely when the Lions were compiling a fifth-wicket partnership of 266 on the first day, a ground record, and reducing the tourists to 97 for 6 on the second. The 56 runs that the tourists added, breezily it might be said, on the final morning were invaluable.

Thilan Samaraweera, another of their vaunted batting line-up, continued his good form, and the tail wagged just enough. Three of the wickets fell to Jade Dernbach to give him nine in the match.

If the Lions could still be expected to win, it was now far from straightforward. Sri Lanka decided almost immediately that they would employ spin into the wind and rotate their seamers at the other end. It paid dividends quickly when Tillakaratne Dilshan's off-spin had Jimmy Adams leg before propping forward.

The damage that mattered was inflicted by Dilhara Fernando, inspired and perhaps given an extra 5mph of pace with the wind at his back. He trimmed James Taylor's off-stump with one that surprised the batsman and then removed Ravi Bopara with a ripsnorter which lifted and kept snaking towards its prey.

Bopara had played comfortably until then, the elegance of his strokes managing to conceal the disappointment he felt at not making the Test side. He tried to remove his bat but the ball kept coming, brushed his gloves and his statement to the selectors was curtailed in its prime.

Three balls later Fernando had Eoin Morgan, newly restored to the England Test team. Morgan pulled his first ball for four but then edged to second slip where Mahela Jayawardene took the catch.

If this burst of three wickets for four in seven balls was a severe setback, the Lions were hardly out of it and their captain, James Hildreth, and Samit Patel moved along zestfully. Hildreth is known to be nudging the selectors; Patel has found renewed favour; and, although he was dropped twice, they put on 54 to take the target below 100.

It was now the turn of Nuwan Pradeep from the pavilion end. In some ways he is Sri Lanka's new Lasith Malinga, though the sling in his action is not quite so pronounced. He was bamboozling enough to have Patel leg before stuck in his crease and when he later had Hildreth caught at backward square leg it was all but over for the Lions. England can consider themselves warned.

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