One of the tough decisions facing England selectors in the build up to Saturday's first Test all but disappeared here in Colombo yesterday afternoon when a distraught Stephen Harmison limped from the field with a lower back injury. Harmison had just bowled the third ball of a new spell, a flaccid, wide delivery that only just reached Matthew Prior, the England wicket-keeper, when he felt a sharp pain in his back.
As the fast bowler tentatively made his way back to his mark Michael Vaughan, the England captain, appeared by his side and following several back stretches and a brief conversation he limped off in clear discomfort. The England medical staff stated that it was nothing more than a back spasm and Peter Moores, the head coach, is hoping that he may yet be able to bowl tomorrow in the Sri Lankan Board President's XI second innings. If Harmison recovers he will have to bowl a minimum of two fast and testing spells if he is to convince the selectors that he is worthy of a place in the Test side.
The injury spoilt an excellent day for England. Harmison was in the middle of his eleventh over when he broke down and the setback gives James Anderson an excellent chance of playing in Kandy, although the possibility of Stuart Broad coming in to contention should not be ruled out.
Anderson bowled pretty well on another hot, humid day. An expensive final spell spoilt his figures but most importantly he appeared to be free from the back complaint that has hindered him during the last week. England may consider playing Broad if they feel their pace attack for Kandy lacks variety. Matthew Hoggard, Ryan Sidebottom and Anderson are similar bowlers, in that they pitch the ball up and look for swing. Harmison is a hit-the-pitch bowler who can extract steep bounce from a surface, and when he landed the ball in the right area yesterday the Sri Lankan batsman looked uncomfortable. Broad, at 6ft 5in is a similar style of bowler.
"Stephen, naturally, is very disappointed but he is hoping it is nothing more than a twinge," said Moores. "It is nothing to do with the back injury he had last summer and the physio does not think it is anything major. It is disappointing because he began to find a good rhythm and was enjoying himself. When Stephen bowls well he attacks the crease and he was doing just that. He was bowling with good pace.
"Hopefully it is one of those things that settles down in the next 24-36 hours, so we are hoping that he will be able to take part in the second innings and bowl. Hopefully it will settle down but if it doesn't, injuries are injuries and we have got to take it on the chin.
"It was a shame because the injury put a cloud over what was a very good day for us. We stuck to our tasks, we were patient and wickets came in little bunches. Ravi Bopara did well and Monty [Panesar] came on after tea and bowled with great energy. He bowled a lot of good balls after tea and deserved his three late wickets."
Panesar and England felt they should have taken wickets earlier but they were denied by some interesting umpiring. An lbw appeal by Panesar against Upul Tharanga, who top scored with 86, seemed destined to go on and hit middle stump but like most others it was turned down. Tharanga, who appears set to play in the first Test, has now scored 198 runs against England this week. The bowlers will be hoping that he has used them up in a match that carries little kudos.
Matthew Hoggard claimed three good wickets on a day where he used his experience and adapted to the conditions. Bopara took a wicket and a catch too. He was lively in the field and brought energy to the side. Owais Shah will need to bat well if he is to keep the youngster at bay.
The day began with the smiling face of an inquisitive Muttiah Muralitharan peering through a wire fence at the southern end of this picturesque ground, but the sight of England bowling ensured that he did not stay long. The fate of the three-Test series is unlikely to rest on his ability to keep out Matthew Hoggard and Anderson; it is the ability of England's batsmen to delay him becoming the highest wicket taker in Test cricket that is pivotal.
Sri Lanka's Test side will change during the series after it emerged that Sanath Jayasuriya will retire from Test cricket at the end of the first Test. Jayasuriya, a veteran of 109 Tests and scorer of 6,885 runs at an average of 40.02 will continue to play one-day cricket.
In an attempt to inject youth into their side the Sri Lankan selectors have also invited Chaminda Vaas the chance to retire after the first Test. Vaas, who will make his 100th Test appearance in Kandy on Saturday, turned down the offer and wants to fight for a place in the side. He too will continue to play one-day cricket.
Sri Lanka President's XI v England
(First day of three)
Board President's XI won toss
Board President's XI - First Innings
W U Tharanga c Bell b Anderson 86
M L Udawatte c Vaughan b Hoggard 18
B S M Warnapura c Prior b Bopara 16
*T M Dilshan c Anderson b S J Harmison 23
J Mubarak c Prior b Hoggard 68
C K Kapugedera c Bopara b Hoggard 13
†J K Silva c Cook b Panesar 53
K S Lokuarachchi lbw b Panesar 0
W R S de Silva not out 1
U W M Welegedara c Cook b Panesar 1
M K D Amerasinghe not out 0
Extras (b6 lb7 nb6) 19
Total (for 9, 81 overs) 298
Fall: 1-55 2-79 3-116 4-158 5-182 6-287 7-287 8-297 9-298.
Bowling: Hoggard 17-3-57-3; Anderson 15.3-4-55-1; S J Harmison 10.3-1-45-1; Bopara 11-2-43-1; Panesar 22-4-67-3; Pietersen 4-0-15-0; Vaughan 1-0-3-0.
England: A N Cook, *M P Vaughan, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, O A Shah, R S Bopara, †M J Prior, M J Hoggard, J M Anderson, S J Harmison, M S Panesar.
Umpires: R Martinesz and W A Senanayake.Reuse content