England dominate first day

England comfortably took the opening day honours in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Kandy. Electing to bat first Sri Lanka crumbled to 188 all out, which could have been much worse if it was not for the brilliance of Kumar Sangakkara. Matthew Hoggard was the chief inflictor of damage, removing four of Sri Lanka’s top order batsmen in his opening ten over burst.

England’s reply began by continuing the recent flurry of wickets when Chaminda Vaas removed opener Alistair Cook with the third ball of the innings. Captain Michael Vaughan (13*) and Ian Bell (36*) saw their side through to the close, ending on 49-1.

It was a predictably sweltering day for the first day of the series with the track looking in excellent condition to have a bat. It was dry with a few minor cracks that are expected to open up and crumble as the game goes on, making it increasingly difficult to bat on.

Steve Harmison did not make England’s starting eleven, so James Anderson was given his chance to impress, while Sri Lanka called in Jehan Mubarak following Marvan Atapattu’s recent retirement. Chaminda Vaas was recalled after Farveez Maharoof injured his ankle, and the experienced bowler gratefully received his 100th cap.

So it was with glee that Mahela Jayawardene called correctly, with England captain Vaughan admitting that he would have loved the chance to bat first.

What transpired could not have been any further from Jayawardene’s hopes, as Ryan Sidebottom struck first blood, encouraging Sanath Jayasuriya to drive, and Kevin Pietersen took a fine catch diving to his right. His catch was to be eclipsed as finest of the day later on by none other than Paul Collingwood.

Meanwhile Hoggard was settling in nicely on his return to the England side with the kind of swing bowling and accuracy that has troubled many a batsman. It proved too much for Michael Vandort who rather tamely offered a chance to Vaughan at mid on, attempting to work it through the leg side. The skipper held the catch and Sri Lanka were 29-2.

It was an almighty effort for Hoggard to bowl a straight ten overs in this draining heat, but a further three wickets in this spell, all in fairly identical fashion, must have kept energy levels high.

Mahel Jayawardene, Chamara Silva, and Jehan Mubarak were all unable to negotiate the movement Hoggard was finding, and consequently nicked through to Matt Prior for three straight forward catches. The Yorkshire swinger was well rewarded for his metronomic accuracy and while he was not getting prodigious movement, the ball was swinging and seaming just enough to make the difference.

At 42-5 Sri Lanka were in dire straits, and the vital partnership of their best batsman Sangakkara and keeper Prasanna Jayawardene at least gave the hosts a smidgen of respectability.

Sangakkara continued his outstanding form from Australia, where in his only Test he made 57 and 192, and prior to that his last two Test innings were 222* and 200* against Bangladesh. He assessed the pitch and the individual threat each bowler was offering, and set out his game plan accordingly.

Such a joy to watch when in full flow, he punched the ball down the ground with consummate ease, and watchfully drove through the ball. The ball was not coming on to the bat particularly well, so at times he was forced to check his stroke, but his timing did not suffer as a result. If England did stray too straight, he would work the ball expertly off his legs into the vacant gaps on the leg side, it was becoming a true masterclass in how to bat in Sri Lankan conditions, and in Jayawardene he found a player able to stick with him.

The keeper has shown his strengths with the gloves and also offered promise with the bat, and today he played very well through the offside, not afraid to open the face of the bat to find the spaces.

Jayawardene only managed one more run form his next 18 deliveries, before he flicked one from Monty Panesar rather firmly into Cook’s mid rift, who managed to cling on.

With wickets now falling regularly from the other end, Sangakkara was left with no option but to take the attack to England, and on 92 he sliced one within reach of Collingwood who plucked the ball one handed whilst diving to his left off the bowling of Anderson.

Panesar managed to get the odd one to really turn and bounce, which will not have disheartened Murali on the opening day. England’s spinner accounted for Chaminda Vaas and Dilhara Fernando before Murali was run out in a mix up with Lasith Malinga. Panesar finished with 3-46, but Hoggard was the stand out bowler ending with 4-29.

Vaas immediately gave Sri Lanka the tonic they needed at the beginning of England’s reply, luring Cook across his stumps before bowling one to go straight on that thudded into Cook’s front pad for a regulation lbw decision.

Ian Bell looked in exquisite touch, a series of front and back foot boundaries when he only appeared to block the ball, took him to 36 not out and restore any confidence he may have lost on his trip here in the one-day series. Vaughan was dogged, not reaching the levels of fluency he had at the same venue back in 2003, but nevertheless reached the close of play unscathed.

A start England could only have dreamt of, but this Test is far from over.

Sri Lanka 188 (59.4 overs)
Kumar Sangakkara 92, Prasanna Jayawardene 51
Matthew Hoggard 4-29, Monty Panesar 3-46

England 49-1 (17 overs)
Ian Bell 36*, Michael Vaughan 13*
Chaminda Vaas 1-18

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