Ian Bell's Tour Diary: Magnificent start that can set tone for series

Classy bowling reopens scars from one-day series as home batsmen fail to find their feet
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The Independent Online

We would have happily settled for a first day like that. Lose toss, bowl good opposition out not long after tea on the first day. It can set the tone of a match and a series. Our bowlers were superb. Matthew Hoggard found his length early and bowled with supreme intelligence. It wasn't doing much but it was doing enough for our Hoggy; a bit of an away-swinger here, a bit of a cutter there.

But at the other end, when those crucial early wickets fell, Jimmy Anderson bowled a lot of dot balls. It squeezed the opposition just a little bit tighter. Perhaps they began to think they had nowhere to go.

The collapse which reduced them to 42 for 5 started with the first ball after the first drinks break of the series. I thinkthis was crucial. Give them a loosener or two to settle out here and they are away again.

But Hoggard bowled Mahela Jayawardene a ball he had to play. Three gone then. He then produced two more balls which, in their turn, Chamara Silva and Jehan Mubarak had to play. Top bowling, batting which failed to find its feet.

But what an innings was played by Kumar Sangakkara. There is a temptation not to think too highly of Sangakkara when the world's best batsmen are being discussed. Yes, yes, I know he's No 3 in the world rankings, but the perception out there seems to be that he is a wicketkeeper-batsman who scores bundles on the subcontinent.

Be assured, he is a splendid player. Yesterday he recognised early on the virtues of playing straight, plumb straight, though he is also one of the top horizontal-bat offside players around. It was a masterful innings and he never forgot to punish anything loose. It took a great, characteristic catch by Paul Collingwood to remove him. He deserved a century.

It says something for this team that when Michael Vaughan called the wrong way [at the toss] there was no moaning, no quibbling. Of course we would have liked to bat. It looked a wonderful pitch, though in the event it turned out to be a little two-paced, with the odd one skidding through. Anyway, we just knew we had to get on with the job. There was probably some momentum left from the one-day series win and we knewSri Lanka might be suffering slightly after being beaten fairlycomfortably 2-0 in Australia.

Sri Lanka staged something of a recovery before Monty Panesar got among them a bit with three wickets. It was good to see him turning the ball on day one, though it would be remiss of me not to concede that as another ripped through we did not turn to each other, shrug our shoulders and say: "Here we go."

Turn for Monty, of course, means turn for the man himself, Muttiah Muralitharan, on the verge of becoming the all-time Test wicket-taker. So it proved as soon as he came on.

We know, as I said last week, that he will take wickets in this series, we know he will make us look stupid at times. But you have to play every ball bystarting again.

Peter Moores, our coach, put it well when we were discussing him. Yes, reader, we discussed him. He said something along the lines of: "Murali is a champion bowler. What a great challenge it is to play him in his own country. This is what you want to do as international cricketers, challenge yourself against champions." Play well against the world's champion bowler onhis home turf and you send a message round the world.

I did not, in fairness, expect to be batting yesterday. But there we are. I set out here to make the No 3 spot my own. You can learn more in the subcontinent than anywhere else in the world. It is a different style of cricket, dem-ands different things of bowlers and batsmen. We started well.