Sri Lanka 521-5 dec & 5-1 Sussex 262: Shadow of Jayasuriya hangs over Rayner's greatest day

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Behind the scenes all hell is probably being let loose. Such a state of affairs is customary in Sri Lankan cricket. But to the naked eye these tourists look as happy as Larry, all smiles allied to application.

What it will mean when they pitch up for the Second Test is at least questionable (not much may be the answer), but the spring in their step at Hove was unmistakable. Not only did they escape from the First Test with the series still at 0-0 but they have also thoroughly enjoyed themselves in pummelling weak opposition by the coast in the past three days.

Having dismantled the Sussex bowlers, they skewered their batsmen yesterday before diluting their bowling attack. Sri Lanka scored 521 for 5 declared and in reply Sussex were at one point 98 for 6. This is the sort of imbalance that is inevitable when counties, for whatever reasons, field a team containing five men who have played one County Championship match between them, three of whom are making their first-class debut.

Meaningless then, except in two (fairly important) ways. The quintet of young Sussex men will have seen it as a way of enhancing their careers, an aspiration achieved spectacularly in one case yesterday.

Oliver Rayner, batting at number eight, came in after the initial collapse and became the first Sussex player to score a hundred on his first-class debut since 1920.

Sri Lanka may have yearned for stronger opposition but they have scored runs and taken wickets aplenty, not bad things for cricketers to do any time. They are still left with two selection conundrums, one about who should open the batting, the other about who should open the bowling. Not inconsequential then.

The former decision is connected to evidence that the country's cricket does not always reach Larry levels of happiness. Sanath Jayasuriya retired from Tests two months ago. Two weeks ago, he was persuaded by the new chairman of selectors, Ashantha de Mel, apparently with the involvement of the President, to rescind that decision and join a tour showing signs of becoming beleaguered.

Then, somehow, Sri Lanka earned a draw at Lord's. Things changed. The result and the gritty manner in which it was achieved strengthened the hand of the coach, Tom Moody, who has made much about looking to the future.

Moody was sufficiently emboldened not to select Jayasuriya for this match, meaning he could not possibly play in the Edgbaston Test, having not batted since his supposed valedictory Test in April (unless, of course, the President decrees otherwise). While he was reluctant to talk about it yesterday it was a brave gesture on Moody's part.

With Jayasuriya not involved, the Sri Lankans would still have to decide between Michael Vandort and Jehan Mubarak to accompany Upul Tharanga. Vandort was favourite to open at Lord's before he bagged a pair against England A, but then Mubarak failed twice. You could see the case for Jayasuriya, especially with Vandort failing again in Sri Lanka's second innings yesterday.

Moody was more forthcoming on the bowling front. He said that both Lasith Malinga (Malinga the slinger) and Nuwan Zoysa were in contention. "We have to do something to give us more variation after what happened at Lord's," he said.

On reflection, Malinga with 54 wickets in 15 previous Tests, should have played. He is expensive but also quick and unorthodox. On the other hand, had he been batting at Lord's the draw might have been unattainable. But his 5 for 79 yesterday, albeit against novices, might have swung the vote his way again.

Either way, it will be much more serious than the proceedings yesterday. After breaching the early Sussex batting, the tourists felt able to give a bowl to both non-bowlers Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who as captain and vice-captain might have had something to do with them being introduced into the attack.

Still, a debut century is not to be sniffed at, especially when so many had failed. Rayner, a 20-year-old off spinner who has had trouble with his action, hit the ball as clean as a whistle and was unafraid to be adventurous. At 6ft 5in he was on the front foot most of the time. His hundred took 132 balls and contained 12 fours and a six. He will never forget it and nor should he. When he was out Sussex were still 260 behind. Many things could be said about it but you could never be sure you were watching a proper match.