Morgan and Patel excel to give selectors much to ponder

England Lions 394-4 v Sri Lanka
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The Independent Online

Whoever roars for the Lions this week may find their efforts falling on deaf ears. England's team for the first Test in Cardiff has already taken shape. Opinions have been formed and squads chosen.

But how Eoin Morgan and Samit Patel roared yesterday. Ravi Bopara, the odds-on favourite to fill the vacant place next Thursday, compiled a brief, fitful innings in the morning. By contrast, Morgan, his chief rival for the vacant batting place, played lustrously when the pitch eased in the afternoon. Patel, given a reprieve at last after being overlooked by England because of his inattention to fitness, completed his hundred just before the close. They put on an unbroken 232 for the fifth wicket as England romped to 394 for 4.

Morgan has spent the past six weeks playing Twenty20 in the Indian Premier League and since this is his only first-class match before the Test it is inconceivable that he could play. But his innings of seemed to be daring the selectors to pick him.

Every impishly crafted stroke seemed to be saying: "Twenty20 or Test match cricket, it doesn't matter to me. Bring it on." Bopara will have watched (along with the chairman of selectors, Geoff Miller and coach Andy Flower) and felt his breath down his neck already.

Morgan was not in full control throughout – in successive deliveries he was deceived by a slower ball that brought him four and a bouncer off which he scored a top-edged six – but he has the priceless asset of merely getting on with it. After passing 50 with his ninth four, he eased his way to a hundred, pulling hard, cutting dextrously, striking two successive fours to get there and a third immediately. It took him only 128 balls. The third fifty took him only 43 balls.

What happens against the Sri Lankans in this match will be produced as evidence on a later occasion. If this is admirably decisive of the selectors, the scope for embarrassment was clear the longer Morgan batted.

How Bopara responds to this will probably define his future (or lack of it) as an international batsman and the feeling is that he must do so quickly. He was off the mark yesterday with a sumptuous cover drive for four, but immediately afterwards drove once more and was put down at slip. With the ball seaming around, it did not seem the most wisely conceived stroke. Nor was the cut to the lifting ball that eventually did for him.

Other Lions could feel pleased with their day's work. A point was made by Patel. Ignored for nearly three years because he was deemed too fat and not fit, he has at last responded to plaintive calls for more personal discipline.

He took a little time to settle but then produced some lovely shots, especially off the back foot, which will have done wonders for his cause. It can only be hoped that he does not see it as a reason for cancelling his gym membership and renewing his season ticket at local takeaways.

The most gruelling work of the day was done by James Taylor. Thrust into the unfamiliar position of opener, he dealt in workmanlike, determined fashion with the moving ball. The hard work seemed to be done when Dilhara Fernando, one of Sri Lanka's returning IPL players, produced one which lifted and had Taylor groping forward and edging behind.

Sri Lanka have work to do. They chose to bowl presumably because of the green pitch, although they were only fielding four specialist bowlers and despite their strong batting. Thisara Perera removed Jimmy Adams' middle and leg stumps with a vicious yorker and when Bopara followed in the 14th over it seemed the right call. But almost nothing followed and they dropped too many catches, two of them put down by the prodigious Mahela Jayawardene at slip.

James Hildreth, whose name is said to be lodged towards the front of the selectors' minds, laced his innings with some handsome off-side strokes without being entirely convincing otherwise. The evening, the best part of the day in every way, belonged to Morgan and Patel.

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