• England v Sri Lanka, First Test

Root century caps England's revival

The Report by David Hopps
June 12, 2014
Joe Root reached his third Test century - and second at Lord's - to shore up England's position © Getty Images

England 344 for 5 (Root 102*, Prior 76*, Bell 56) v Sri Lanka
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Joe Root accepted the opportunity to put a disrupting Ashes series behind him by marking the onset of England's Test summer with a third hundred once again replete with promise. It was a polished affair against a Sri Lanka attack that initially prospered after inserting England, claiming four wickets for 120, but which found the going increasingly arduous as the first day progressed.

As a tinge of green disappeared from the pitch like a journey across a paint manufacturer's colour chart and the Lord's background hum provided a supportive soundtrack, Root was at ease with his game again, sitting primarily on the back foot and working the ball through the leg side with regularity. His drive down the ground against Shaminda Eranga to reach 96, though, told of better balance and his emotional response when he clipped Rangana Herath through mid-on for three was that of a man who had put his doubts behind him.

Sri Lanka will feel they lost control of the day by a few millimetres. England could have been 209 for 6 if Matt Prior, who made a pair at Lord's last summer, had been given out lbw for 0 to his second ball, against the left-arm spinner, Rangana Herath. They reviewed umpire Paul Rieffel's not out decision and failed by the narrowest margin.

By the close, a few millimetres had grown into considerable suffering. Prior finished the day unbeaten on 76 from 103 balls, his sixth-wicket stand with Root worth 135 in 30 overs. All that chest thrusting must put strain on his dodgy Achilles. England broke the day with 149 from 36 overs in the final session. For England's new coaching pair, Peter Moores and Paul Farbrace, it made satisfying watching.

By fielding Root at No. 5, England had done everything to release him from the inertia that gradually settled upon him in Australia. He is at his best when there is perkiness in his play and even though his hundred took more than five hours, his decisiveness was evident from the outset.

The order was a source of debate for some all the same. As one armchair critic accused, recalling an old Eric Morecambe piano playing gag, England had picked the right players, they were just playing them in the wrong order. There were certainly a few bum notes as Sri Lanka struck three times before lunch and added the wicket of Ian Bell, lbw on review in mid-afternoon, after an otherwise consummate half-century.

Sri Lanka's decision to bowl first had an element of self-protection about it. Fading green tinge or not (more Apple Essence than Cow Pasture even when the toss was made at 10.30am), the surface was dry and the weather settled. There can be a lot of difference between mid-May, when they normally visit England, and mid-June.

The originality in their Test attack, such an attraction on their past visits to England, has largely departed. The uniqueness of Murali, slingshots of Lasith Malinga and finger-flicking variations of Ajantha Mendis are all absent from this side. Rangana Herath is a throwback, a portly figure tossing up his left-arm slows at less than 50mph, but the pace attack was more conventional and was grateful for early swing and the chance to probe England's uncertainty. Sam Robson, making only a single on debut, Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance all perished.

The more you prop up a captain in difficulty, the more you risk the chance that he might fall over when unaided. England's managing director, Paul Downton, has made much of the need to provide an environment in which Cook's captaincy can flourish, but such a message can eat away at self-esteem and his first innings of the season was a strangely hesitant affair.

Robson steered his second ball, from Kulasekara, through into the covers for his first Test run, but he progressed no further. He knew the Lord's slope, having played his county cricket for Middlesex, but he was drawn all the same into pushing at an outswinger from Nuwan Pradeep which faded down the hill and provided an edge to the keeper. On Test Match Special, Geoffrey Boycott dissected his technique on the evidence of seven balls; such are the demands of international cricket.

Cook might have preferred a more physical threat from an out-and-out fast bowler. Instead, Nuwan Kulasekara, playing his first Test for more than a year and one of the slowest bowlers to take the new ball of recent vintage, unbalanced him.

He propped forward to his second ball to play and miss. He cagily clanked the last ball of the over to the cover boundary. His second boundary escaped through backward point as he aimed to the leg side. He was fiddly and hesitant. He sought to cut Kulusekara and chopped on to his stumps as he was cramped for room.

Ballance, a compact back footer, had been asked to handle the strains of No. 3, with Kulasekara relishing the Dukes ball's propensity to swing. He edged Kulasekara just in front of third slip, larruped a shorter ball perilously close to Kaushal Silva at backward point then fell to a ponderous drive to give the shock-haired Pradeep his second wicket.

Moeen Ali, on debut, began sketchily but, even in those early uncertain moments, for every streaky thick edge to third man there was a stylish riposte; ambition, too, seen in the moment when he deposited his first sight of spin bowling in Test cricket, a gentle delivery from the left-arm spinner Herath, over wide long-on for six. His ugliest moment proved to be his last, drawn into a drive at a wide one by Herath and edging to slip.

The poise of Moeen gave way to the belligerence of Prior. His Achilles withstood a desperate dive for the crease on 36 when he chanced a second to Kulasekara's arm from long leg. But as he despatched Pradeep - and the second new ball - to the extra cover boundary for a half-century in 81 balls, his dirt-splattered shirt was merely a marketing company's dream as he communicated the fact that he was back in business.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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