Sri Lanka 179 England A 96-2 <i>(Match abandoned at 73 mins)</i>: Lewis nudges the England selectors with six of the best

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Absenteeism as much as the presence of a clutch of England Test hopefuls generated interest here. Muttiah Muralitharan was left out of the side, raising eyebrows, and the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, is not scheduled to arrive here until tomorrow.

Muralitharan flew home to Sri Lanka last night after learning of the death of an aunt, but the off-spinner will be rejoining the tour on Sunday by which time this match could well be over.

The tourists won the toss and elected to bat, an unfortunate decision as things turned out because they immediately ran into the in-form Jon Lewis.

He began the season in spectacular fashion with a 10-wicket haul in Gloucestershire's opening Championship match against Somerset and the way he picked up his half a dozen wickets yesterday suggested that he could well repeat the feat against Sri Lanka.

Lewis has been something of a nearly man, having been 12th man for three Tests, but he has never taken that final step, the closest he has come has been making three appearances for his country in one-day internationals.

He is hungry to break into Test cricket and, with injuries to bowlers further up the pecking order, Lewis has every chance, after a performance such as this, to fulfil his ambition.

"There are places up for grabs and I am looking to push my claim," said Lewis after his 6 for 49 return. He found help off the pitch and the ball swung as well. Lewis started the England A day perfectly by dismissing Michael Vandort with the first ball of the morning.

He slanted across the left-hander, who was shaping to play a shot through mid-wicket and Alex Loudon took the catch at third slip.

The rest followed fairly meekly. Only Tillakaratne Dilshan and teenager Chamara Kapugedera showed any inclination to hang around, but Lewis eventually accounted for them as well.

England A's other success of the day was the wicketkeeper Chris Read, who claimed four catches. The loss of the opener Alastair Cook to the sixth ball of the A team's reply did not augur well and there were shudders when Owais Shah perished an hour later, but the captain, Robert Key, managed to steady things.