President's XI 500-5, England 315-6 (match drawn): England batsmen locate comfort zone in first trial on Sri Lankan pitches
Friday 23 November 2007
It was retirements and runs, not dismissals and defeat, that dominated the final day of England's opening warm-up game in Sri Lanka. With the exception of Kevin Pietersen, who spliced a short ball to gully on four, each of England's batsmen spent valuable time acclimatising at the crease. Michael Vaughan, the England captain, was the only other player to be dismissed on a day when four of the tourists' batsmen retired once they had gained the practice they required.
Sterner tests lie ahead for England's batsmen, who posted 315 runs yesterday for the loss of two legitimate wickets, starting with Sunday's game here in Colombo. Vaughan and Peter Moores, the England coach, will have been concerned by the lack of cutting edge shown by their bowlers on the opening two days but the pair will have been delighted by how the batsmen fared.
The most encouraging aspect of England's batting was the way in which it dealt with the Sri Lanka Board President's XI spinners. Not one of the four slow bowlers used by the hosts compares to Muttiah Muralitharan but, on a turning pitch, England dealt with them comfortably. Batting time in the nets is useful but nothing compares to time in the middle and, apart from Pietersen, each spent 90 minutes or more at the crease.
"Over the three days we have learnt a lot about ourselves and the conditions we are going to play in," Vaughan said. "We have come a little bit closer to deciding on the 11 that will play for England in the first Test, but there is still another game to go and another opportunity for players to impress.
"It will be quite tricky to get the squad down to a final 11 in Kandy. There are still a couple of places up for grabs and we won't necessarily play our Test side in Sunday's game. We may look at another couple of players over the next couple of days. Ideally, though, you want your Test players to get as much practice as they can."
Matches such as this often lack intensity and end up being a waste of time, but the desire of the players on each side to impress ensured that it remained competitive. "A game in which you can play 16 players is always going to be nothing more than a warm-up," Vaughan admitted. "But what we tried to do was give every bowler the opportunity to bowl some overs, all the fielders enough time in the field to get a feel for what it is like here and each batsman enough time in the middle to make it worthwhile.
"The next three-day game is a first-class match and we have to hit that very hard, you can't just keep replacing players on the pitch. Sometimes when you've got 16 guys playing and seven or eight bowling it can become a little confusing. You don't get to understand your spells as much as you do when you are only playing with 11, so the next three-day game is crucial to our development going into that first Test in Kandy.
"I am happy with what we got out of the practice. We worked hard over the three days and we are looking forward to the next one and the Test series that follows it. I was also happy with my 38."
And so he should be. Vaughan was in excellent touch, clipping the seamers beautifully off his legs and driving them pleasantly down the ground. Batting became more difficult when Malinga Bandara, the Sri Lankan leg-spinner, was brought on and Vaughan was trapped lbw by him in his third over, attempting to work a straight ball through the leg-side.
Alastair Cook, opening with Vaughan for the first time, was his usual unflappable self. Cook top-scored with 63 but both he and his captain will have to learn to rotate the strike so that neither gets bogged down at one end. Both batsmen are hard at the ball when they defend a technique that sends the ball quickly to fielders. In the conditions here they need to learn to drop the ball into gaps to take quick singles.
Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood were industrious and aggressive. Each was prepared to advance down the pitch to a spinner and hit the ball over the top. The same tactic against Muralitharan could prove more dangerous.
The retirement of the pair gave Owais Shah, Ravi Bopara and Matthew Prior a chance to bat. Was the fact that Shah batted before Bopara an indication that he may play ahead of the all-rounder in the first Test? All will be revealed on Sunday, when the cricket begins to get a bit more serious.
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