Outside the charmingly ramshackle Sinhalese Sports Club ground yesterday a few dogs were spreadeagled on the pavement. They were presumably mad. There were a few Englishmen also out in the sun but that was because they had to be there after losing the toss to the Sri Lanka Development XI. A few unfamiliar things went on but nobody thought the wicketkeeper Matt Prior was crazy when he discarded his pads, so drenched in sweat were his flannels.
It cannot be long in these conditions when somebody thinks of the seditious idea of cricketers playing in shorts, although that might be pushing it a bit at this old colonial staging post. This was the tourists' second and final practice match before the start of the Test series next week and although the gruelling punishment in the searing heat may end up doing them good it will not have felt like it last night.
The Development XI – a slight misnomer since it contained six players aged 29 or over and five internationals – made 376 for 5 in the 90 overs available. They rattled along more or less at slightly above four runs an over on a lovely batting pitch designed to take the sting from any attack. The former Test batsman Chamara Silva, who still features occasionally in the one-day side, assembled a sublime century.
When he was caught at fine leg playing shots devised for imminent dismissal, the bowler, Steve Finn, proffered a verbal sally which did not appear to be an invitation to dinner. In response, Silva pointed to the scoreboard which showed that he had made 163, an innings that included 25 fours and a six in its 180 balls. It needed no words and Finn, bless him, would have been wise to save his.
Everything begins to suggest that the two-match series will not be easy for England and events yesterday will only have confused their plans. They will not have an XI settled in their minds before seeing the pitch at Galle where the first Test starts on Monday and recent evidence suggests it may be under-prepared. That may yet persuade them that the four-bowler attack, which has served them so well and indeed taken them to the summit of the Test rankings, can still prise out 20 wickets and leave enough time to win a match. But the sight of Graeme Swann being toyed with for much of the time as he went for 102 in 21 overs was hardly uplifting.
Swann never looked like taking a wicket, which is just about acceptable on a first-day batting paradise, but it would have been useful had he been able to contain the opposition a trifle. Not to dry them up but make them think more than once before dancing down to pierce the field or clear it. Swann's runs conceded all but matched the temperature and he will have felt every degree of it.
It was as well for England that Stuart Broad not only proved himself fit to play despite his sprained ankle but also took wickets with the new ball at the start and end of the day. He had accounted for both openers by the ninth over, caught at mid-off and bowled – and he returned in the evening to win an lbw. Three for 55 from 15 overs in these circumstances were riches indeed.
"I was a little bit nervous when I came to the ground this morning knowing I was going to have to bang the left ankle down," he said. "I didn't feel it at all in the first spell but it was niggling me a touch towards the end. I didn't take any anti-inflammatory tablets because I wanted to feel what was going on."
After the early wickets, England were given a sharp reminder of what can happen in this country as Silva and another former international, Thilina Kandamby, shared a third-wicket stand of 151 in 38 overs. Boundary fielders were posted for large parts of it.
It was something of a surprise when Kandamby's defences were punctured by a good ball from Samit Patel. At that point Patel was looking better than Swann and the idea of him making a Test debut as a No 6 and fifth bowler did not look fanciful. But gradually he, like Swann, was milked regularly.
England rested Jimmy Anderson, Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar, showing they are leaving their Test options open. Tim Bresnan, playing in a first-class match for the first time since the fourth Test against India in August, acquitted himself well with an off-stump line when Silva was motoring. But it is difficult to see him playing unless for batting balance in a five-man attack.
England have much to ponder yet and it is to be hoped the heat does not befuddle them.
First day of three; Sri Lanka Cricket Development XI won toss;
Sri Lanka Cricket Development XI first innings
E M G Munaweera b Broad 19
30 balls 2 fours
B S M Warnapura c Bopara b Broad 0
L P C Silva c Trott b Finn 163
180 balls 25 fours 1 six
*S H T Kandamby b S R Patel 64
139 balls 8 fours 1 six
A K Perera not out 61
112 balls 4 fours 3 six
†M D K Perera lbw b Broad 35
42 balls 6 fours
K S Lokuarachchi not out 22
39 balls 4 fours
Extras (lb6 w1 nb5 pens) 12
Total 5 wkts (90 overs) 376
Fall 1, 38, 189, 282, 342.
To bat A B T Lakshitha, I Udana, M V T Fernando, S Weerakoon.
Bowling Broad 15-3-55-3, Finn 15-2-64-1, Bresnan 16-0-47-0, Swann 21-2-102-0, Bopara 5-1-19-0, S R Patel 18-2-83-1.
England XI *A J Strauss, †M J Prior, I R Bell, R S Bopara, T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, K P Pietersen, I J L Trott, S T Finn, G P Swann, S R Patel
Umpires W N de Silva & T H Wijewardene.
Third Umpire H M N C Dhanasinghe.
Match referee B C M S Mendis.
26-30 March First Test (Galle).
3-7 April Second Test (Colombo).