England found themselves in the unusual position of crossing their fingers for more subcontinental spin after their bowling attack struggled to make inroads on the first day of Test preparations in Sri Lanka.
With a week to go before the first Test, the tourists began the first of two warm-up matches by watching a strong Board XI rack up almost 400 runs on a defiantly unresponsive pitch in Colombo.
As acclimatisation work it undoubtedly did the trick, with 89.5 overs in energy-sapping humidity, 14 of their 16 fit players taking the field and eight turning their arm over.
Whether or not any of them advanced their own cause considerably is harder to say. Four from the home side made half-centuries, three of whom retired out, leaving a stumps score of 392 for nine which could easily have looked more concerning.
The surface gave little encouragement to the pacemen, who took two wickets in a combined 39 overs, and offered much less for the slow bowlers than is anticipated in Galle.
England have traditionally fared poorly on spinning tracks, but would rather take their chances than toil in vain on slow, low surfaces like this.
“It was a good batting wicket, there wasn’t a lot of spin,” said Moeen Ali, whose two for 64 represented England’s best return.
“Hopefully the wickets are a bit different in the Test matches. I hope they spin a lot more for everybody. This was quite slow, a dead sort of pitch. If you look at the previous Test matches here they’ve all been spinning big and probably not as flat as this wicket.
“It’s not a concern, they scored a bit more than we would like but the guys needed to get overs in their legs.”
Predictions over England’s likely XI for the series opener seemed trickier to make by the end of play than they had been beforehand.
Spinner Jack Leach was a surprising absentee but he, along with seamer Olly Stone, may have benefited from sitting out in unfriendly conditions. Stuart Broad, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes had the opposite fate.
They may find themselves vying for one shirt in the Test side but none stood out from the pack, Woakes the only wicket-taker of the three but also the most expensive. Moeen’s fellow spinner Adil Rashid, meanwhile, again looked less confident with red ball in hand after a highly-impressive limited-overs campaign.
The wicketkeeping issue, muddied somewhat by Jonny Bairstow’s ankle injury, also took a curious development as Jos Buttler, Ben Foakes and Ollie Pope each took a turn with the gloves.
“I think there are (places to play for) definitely,” said Moeen. “It’s the balance of the team – are we going to play three spinners? Two spinners? What seamers are going to play? Do you need pace or control?
“That’s for the coach and captain to decide.”
England will bat for a full day on Wednesday, regardless of wickets lost, with a chance to see a new-look top three of Rory Burns, Keaton Jennings and Joe Denly.
“We’re going to have to play well and I think we’ve got the players to do that,” added Moeen.
“I do think it’s a very good wicket but it’s more about guys spending time in the middle. You saw they had a couple of guys retire and maybe we’ll do the same.”
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