Rain and rust turn England's homecoming into trying day

Sri Lanka 133-2 v England
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The Independent Online

Perhaps it was too much to expect England simply to take up where they left off. Perhaps they expected too much. But the scene on the first Test day of the summer was far removed in every way from that on the last of the winter. From Ashes glory to indifference in the space of five months.

It rained on the parade to start with and when play began more than four hours late there was a mildly desultory air about it and a vaguely disengaged gathering to watch it. Sri Lanka then demonstrated that they will be nobody's patsies.

Riding their luck at times but riding it with a good deal of discipline and concentration, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Tharanga Paranavitana, the Sri Lankan openers, showed that, like their names, they are far from monosyllabic as batsmen. The 93 runs they shared was astonishingly the highest that Sri Lanka have ever made for the first wicket in a Test in England. The previous high was a mere 59.

It took Graeme Swann to break their stand after England's seam trio failed to make any incisions and this was the signal for England to remember their assault on the mountain peaks of Test cricket. Towards the close of one of those unsatisfactory, short Test days, England won a contentious decision on review against Kumar Sangakkara.

To the naked eye it looked for all the world that Sangakkara had not edged the ball to Matt Prior but two combined elements of technology, hotspot and microphone, persuaded the third umpire to uphold the referral. Thus, if England did not finish the first day of their summer in high spirits they were hardly in low ones with Sri Lanka on 133 for 2.

Any opening partnership involving Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka's most illustrious opening batsman, might have been expected to reap immense dividends at least once wherever he played but on the occasion when he made his magnificent 213 at the Oval in 1998 he lost his fellow opener early. That was Jayasuriya's long-time partner, Marvan Atapattu, these days Sri Lanka's batting coach.

Whatever he has told Dilshan, not a natural opener, and Paranavitana, must have had some beneficial effect. They each made hundreds in both the tourists' opening matches against Middlesex and England Lions and were not about to let their good form be easily undermined yesterday.

England made it more comfortable for them than they would have expected. If the pitch was dry it might have sweated a little under the covers which were on for most of the morning while the light squalls worked their way across Sophia Gardens.

The new ball moved off the seam and less frequently deviated through the air. But of England's seamers only Jimmy Anderson looked in proper control. He bowled a mean early spell, cutting the ball both ways – one leg cutter would have made Shane Warne look straight up and down. But when Anderson found the edge, as he did a couple of times, it flew past the slip cordon, or the batsmen played and missed.

Stuart Broad, in his first Test match since sustaining the abdominal strain which cut short his Ashes tour in the second Test in Adelaide, and Chris Tremlett looked rusty, with the orange tint around Broad's bowling the greater. Each of the seamers has played two Championship matches this summer as preparation for this Test series.

Broad's 55 overs appeared not to have been enough for him to regain rhythm, but then his lay-off has been longer. Anderson's 71.3 overs seem to have been sufficient for him to be restored after ending the World Cup looking more haggard than the portrait of Dorian Gray. Tremlett's 62 overs left him slightly underdone.

Where Anderson applied pressure, Broad and Tremlett tended to release it. Broad bowled some good balls but his length was awry and in striving to rectify that his line went with it. After a mere four overs which cost 18 runs, far too many at the start of a Test match, Broad was excused duties. Tremlett took over without any real fluency and Sri Lanka would have been delighted to negotiate the first, 70-minute session of the series without loss.

When Dilshan last toured England in 2006, he was a frisky middle-order batsman. Few suspected that he could make it as an opener in the longer form of the game but he has reinvented himself. There were a few sudden rushes of blood in this, his maiden innings as his side's captain, but he played a few sumptuous shots, not least an extra cover drive in Broad's second spell that left the fielders in statuesque pose.

He and Paranavitana have opened in Sri Lanka's last 11 Test matches and look to have established a genuine understanding. Dilshan, having just reached a thoroughly entertaining fifty, over-reached once again by trying to cut a ball from Swann that was too close for the purpose and chopped on to his stumps. There is nothing like a wicket to perk up fielders and spectators and England were decidedly purposeful once more.

If it was a surprise that their appeal against Aleem Dar's verdict was upheld it was not a surprise that it was Anderson who struck. He deserved his reward, though Sangakkara clearly disagreed. There was time for Paranavitana to reach his well-crafted fifty, with power to add more today.

More than 9,000 tickets had been sold for the day, but barely 6,000 turned up and the feeling refused to disappear that England deserved better.

Snakes & Ladders: England's quest to reach top of the game

England have fixed their sights on becoming the world's No 1 Test team – and sooner rather than later. Given a good run of results, and a fair wind, they could be crowned by the end of a summer, which sees them start against fourth-ranked Sri Lanka and then tackle leaders India. Knowing England, though, their journey from today in third spot is unlikely to be without its ups and downs. Or snakes and ladders. Independent Sport will monitor England's progress on a daily basis throughout the summer's seven Tests, starting with yesterday's action.

Snake You don't get to No 1 by sitting in the dressing room watching the rain come down. Or losing the toss too many times for that matter. Early days, though.

Ladder News that experienced fast bowler Dilhara Fernando had succumbed to a knee injury was a big blow to Sri Lanka – and a handy boost for England.

Ladder Jimmy Anderson had a World Cup to forget. Quickly. But the Ashes bowling hero was straight back in the groove here with a nice new red ball.

Snake Amazingly, Sri Lanka's best opening stand in 10 previous Tests over here was just 59. That's history now, thanks to 93 from Messrs Dilshan and Paranavitana.

Snake Stuart Broad struggled to rediscover his golden touch during the early stages. Hardly surprising, perhaps, given a winter of injuries.

Ladder At least Graeme Swann did not hang about in opening his wicket account. But maybe England should have played two spinners.

State of play on the snakes and ladders board: England, you're exactly where you started.

Sophia Gardens scoreboard

First Test, Cardiff (First day of five); Sri Lanka won toss

Sri Lanka: First Innings

N T Paranavitana not out 58, 154 balls 0 sixes 6 fours

*T M Dilshan b Swann 50, 94 balls 0 sixes 7 fours

K C Sangakkara c Prior b Anderson 11, 16 balls 0 sixes 2 fours

D P M D Jayawardene not out 4, 24 balls 0 sixes 0 fours

Extras (b5 lb5) 10

Total (for 2, 48 overs) 133

Fall 1-93, 2-114.

To bat T T Samaraweera, †H A P W Jayawardene, M F Maharoof, N L T C Perera, H M R K B Herath, R A S Lakmal, B A W Mendis.

Bowling J M Anderson 15-2-41-1 (1w) (7-2-7-0, 3-0-14-0, 5-0-21-1), S C J Broad 13-1-45-0 (4-0-18-0, 6-1-22-0, 3-0-5-0), C T Tremlett 12-5-24-0 (4-1-5-0, 5-3-7-0, 3-1-12-0), G P Swann 8-2-12-1 (1w) (one spell)

Progress First Day: Tea: 35-0 in 16 overs (Paranavitana 16, Dilshan 18), 50 in 18.4 overs, Dilshan. 50 off 92 balls (7 fours), 100 in 35.4 overs, Paranavitana. 50 off 145 (5 fours).

England A J Strauss*, A N Cook, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, E J G Morgan, M J Prior†, S C J Broad, G P Swann, C T Tremlett, J M Anderson

Umpires Aleem Dar (Pak) and B R Doctrove (WI).

TV umpire R J Tucker (Aus).

Match referee J Srinath (Ind).