Bat rules at sun-baked Lord's

A SUN baked pitch and clear blue sky normally mean toil for bowlers at Lord's and so it proved yesterday as batsmen enjoyed the conditions to score freely.

Matt Prior and Tillikaratne Dilshan prospered most, both scoring superb centuries full of attacking stroke play and excitement but the pitch was so good for batting that even the usually dreadful final pair for England, Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett, enjoyed a cameo worth 34.

They took England to a good total of 486. It is just shy of imposing, especially considering Sri Lanka's excellent start of 230-1, but considering the precarious position of 22-3 they were in on the first morning, it was a fine effort by a team that stubbornly refuses to stop working.

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It started with Prior extending his thrilling counter-attack of Friday into the morning. He is a brutal yet elegant hitter through the offside and has made himself an invaluable asset.

It is not only the runs he scores, and he duly completed his fifth Test century, but the rapidity with which he gets them. He is a run-a-ball man and that exasperates opponents. He was fortunate once as an attempted glide passed between slip and wicketkeeper but no-one could begrudge him his hundred. One of the most impressive aspects of his play is the complete lack of self-regard. He always plays for the good of the team and never considers his own statistics or average.

Interestingly he took a bit longer than his partner, Stuart Broad, to get going. Broad can be frustrating as a batsman. He likes batting at Lord's as his century against Pakistan last summer showed, but sometimes he fails too easily and is susceptible early in his innings. Once in it is easy to see why he was an opening batsman throughout the age groups. He stands tall, plays straight and hits hard, much like his father Chris. He reached his half-century and was then out, LBW a bit like Andrew Strauss, falling over to the off-side to the impressive Chanaka Welegedara.

However, the pitch had become an absolute straight road and Sri Lanka were determined to make amends for their woeful capitulation that cost them the first Test.

Dilshan is a swisher , never content to let a bowler plough a disciplined furrow while his rather more staid but effective opening partner, left-hander Tharanga Paranavitana, is prepared to occupy the crease and accumulate.

Both prospered with few alarms as the England bowlers were poor.

Much has been made of the height of the three England seamers, 6ft 6 to 6ft 8 but all bowled far too short and they wasted the opening 15 overs when any frailties in the Sri Lankan psyches could have been exposed.

The problem is they are all similar and it highlighted the importance of the missing James Anderson who naturally pitches the ball two yards further up and invites the drive.

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It is an issue for the selectors. Maybe they just bowled badly and it is no more than that or maybe there needs to be greater variety in the bowling unit. Finn was particularly poor but was very unlucky when Alastair Cook dropped a simple edge at third slip off Paranavitana. It was hip high and just to his right, as easy as they come there but while Cook has taken some excellent catches at gully, the slip cordon demands a slightly different technique. The score was 37 and it took another 170 runs before Finn got his man and England the breakthrough. As a riposte to being bowled out in a session to lose in Cardiff, 207 as an opening partnership is testament to the fighting spirit of the visitors.

Dilshan also enjoyed one stroke of luck, a thin edge off Graeme Swann dropped by Prior but his duel with the off-spinner was fascinating. There was turn for Swann but Dilshan refused to let him bowl a steady spell and constantly looked to attack. Anything slightly short was cut and anything wide flailed and slashed past backward point. Dilshan also played Swann neatly off the pitch, allowing the ball to turn and then tucking it past square leg for a single. Swann countered by subtle changes of pace and if the edge had been caught would have considered himself the winner.

It was engaging and both displayed plenty of skill and guile. Dilshan also dealt comfortably when Strauss called on Broad to deliver a barrage of short stuff. The Sri Lankan captain sent a firm message to the rest of his team who had been unnerved in Cardiff by the lifting ball when he ducked one, defended the next and then pushed another short one up to the vacant mid-off region and scampered for two to get back on strike. A coward would have settled for one and got off strike without any blame, Dilshan proved he was up for the battle and will expect the rest of his team to follow him.

He starts again this morning determined to put his team into a dominant position. With Kumar Sangakkara at the crease and Mahela Jayawardene to follow the first session today will prove vital. Get in again and Sri Lanka could aim for something very big and then challenge England under pressure. As Cardiff proved, one bad session can cost a Test match and England are not without concerns as Friday morning showed.

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