Whatmore takes cold comfort

Sri Lankans 186 v Middlesex 178-6
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The Independent Online

Sri Lanka, who will play in the First Test at Lord's on Thursday, were dismissed by 3.12pm for 186 by a third-string Middlesex bowling attack in the English countryside yesterday.

It was Sri Lanka's line-up of Test batsmen, too, and they looked vulnerable against swing, presenting Ben Hutton, the grandson of the Master, with his best-ever figures of 4 for 37 off 16 overs. As a bowler, Hutton is normally considered by Middlesex as their sixth choice in one-day cricket.

But do not imagine this was a trial run for Lord's. Sri Lanka have won nine straight Tests, admittedly in less cold and cloudy parts of the world, and they have the second- strongest batting line-up in Test cricket. Dav Whatmore, Sri Lanka's coach, was not especially pleased by what happened yesterday, but he was not obviously perturbed.

He would have liked the openers to go on a bit longer and he wished Kumar Sangakkara had got a few runs before getting a good ball from Aaron Laraman. But his concern is not the batsmen who sank with hardly a trace here. It is the bowling he's got to worry about.

Whatmore did not pick his two leading seamers, Cham-inda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa – their Test places are secure – or his off-spinning all-rounder Thilan Samaraweera. Three more seamers were fighting for one of two Test places, and they hinted at the reason Whatmore worries about the bowling.

Middlesex lost three wickets for 45, two of them to Buddika Fernando, a wiry player of medium height and slightly more than medium place. Then two of Middlesex's bright young men lit into the attack. Both Owais Shah and Ed Joyce bought up their fifties with a six; Joyce's 50 was the faster, 68 balls as opposed to Shah's 92. Both drove and pulled with power and conviction, putting on 114 until Shah edged Fernando to first slip on 65, and a slide began.

Against Kent, Durham and now Middlesex, Sri Lanka have found their preliminary games difficult. It is hard to remember, but foolish to forget, that their batters have scored 500 in the first innings in seven of their last nine Tests. All the batsmen bar Sangakkara have got runs here.

Whatmore remains detached about the opposition. He said that the recalls of Alec Stewart and John Crawley were not surprising, though he admitted that he had "overlooked" Dominic Cork's chances. He is not alone in that.

Sri Lanka's strategy at Lord's, he said, would be "to buckle down, get a start and make it tough for the opposition". As a war cry, it would not rank with Henry V on St Crispin's Day, but Whatmore is a man who deals in results.

The danger is that England's players, management and supporters will take the tourists' early form and the weather conditions too much to heart. Sri Lanka's batsmen are much too good to be taken for granted. Actually, Sri Lanka's openers looked very capable yesterday. Sanath Jayasuriya, the captain, and Marvin Atapattu started off at five an over, scoring 70 runs in the first hour.

Low cloud hung over this Middlesex outground in Hertfordshire. Shenley is a handsome arena, particularly convenient for suburban motorists. The buds were darling and the trees at the cornfield end displayed a complete palette of shades of green.

Before the sun came out in the afternoon, it was cold enough for the spectators ringing the boundary to wish they had brought a blanket. But this is what the visitors expected. "Normally England in April is pretty bloody, isn't it," said Whatmore.

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