Two new recruits - Sam Robson, who scored a maiden Test century of 127, and Gary Ballance - launched a new era of England batting and set up a total which, if embellished on Sunday, should lead to a 1-0 series win over Sri Lanka before Tuesday evening.
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Robson revels in maiden Test century
Sam Robson hits his maiden Test century as the second Test between England and Sri Lanka remained finely poised after two at Headingly.
"We shall build Jerusalem" Headingley's spectators sang at the start of day two, and in a second-wicket partnership of 142 Robson and Ballance set about doing so. The fact that the contract was outsourced to two players who were neither born nor brought up in the green and pleasant land did not worry the crowd, who warmly cheered Robson's maiden Test century and any scoring stroke by his partner, an adopted Yorkshireman.
This is the era of global mobility. Ballance represented Zimbabwe Under-19s before his cricket scholarship to Harrow. Robson represented Australia Under-19s, and if his angular stance is similar to anyone's then it would be Steve Smith, who played alongside him and is now Australia's vice-captain.
Robson's father, Jim, was at Headingley to watch his son bring up his century for England off 220 balls. He has taken a holiday from his job as manager of the indoor cricket school at the Sydney Cricket Ground: you cannot get a job more Australian than that, because Bondi's lifesavers are volunteers.
Jim Robson was born in Goulburn in New South Wales, moved to Sydney to play grade cricket, came to England and scored exactly 1000 runs for Worcestershire seconds in 1979 before returning to Australia to teach. When he married a nurse from Nottingham, their son was qualified to play for England, and Sam exercised his dual citizenship when he joined Middlesex seven years ago.
It was ever thus, albeit to a lesser extent. The first Australian called Sam to play cricket for England did so in the Victorian era, Sam Woods. The next Sam to play for England could be Sam Hain, and it might not be far hence, as the 18 year-old prodigy from Queensland scored his maiden first-class hundred for Warwickshire last week.
It was something of an irony that Robson played himself into the England team on the same ground that Nick Compton played himself out of it one year and one month ago. Robson started quietly, as Compton had, with his innings of 19 and one at Lord's in mind. But he was never static. One ball in eight he squirrelled away for a single, and if the spinner Rangana Herath came closest to tying him down, Robson still had the self-assurance to run down the pitch and loft him for four before reaching three figures, then for six afterwards - only his sixth six in his first-class career.
It was not a pretty innings - Robson's hands are too far apart on the handle for it to be waved like a wand - but England, for their revival purposes, need an opener who can stay at the crease for six hours, irrespective of style. Alastair Cook is not in the frame of mind to do so, and his dry run continued, his last century having come in the same match as Compton's last innings.
Another half-forward, or quarter-forward, push by Cook that was almost a stab in the dark kept his Test average at 25 for the past year. Everybody has learnt never to give him anything to cut or pull, but it may be that he does not make his next century until he ignores Australian propaganda and relaxes enough to enjoy the captaincy. Only then will he leave the ball as patiently as he used to.
Ballance was dismissed by much the same ball as Cook, fullish and angled across the left-hander, but he had consolidated his place at No.3 long before then. His technique still makes him vulnerable to a new-ball bowler who can swing the ball back into him, but by phlegmatic temperament he is suited to being an England No.3, fated by English conditions to being less aggressive than his Australian counterpart.
Last Sunday Ballance had shown he was more than a square-of-the-wicket accumulator by accelerating to his maiden century and celebrating his slog-sweep into the Lord's Grandstand with animation. Unlike Robson, who is not required by Middlesex for white-ball cricket, he has a wide range of strokes, and yesterday his square-driving hinted at flamboyance.
England became very grateful for Robson, Ballance and their busy rate of accumulation - for players in their second and third Tests - the moment the second new ball was taken under cloud. Robson was bowled by a ball nipping back, much as he had been at Lord's, whereupon the batsmen born and bred in England collapsed, to the extent they lost three wickets for two runs, while the two late-order incomers, Matt Prior and Chris Jordan, were both reprieved through missed catches.
Ian Bell's deserved fortune in his 100th Test - he had edged two consecutive balls past gully to the boundary - ran out when he was caught down the leg side. Joe Root was suitably annoyed with himself for trying to steer the new ball to third man with two slips in place. Moeen Ali chased an even wider ball than those that had dismissed Cook and Ballance, and suddenly the game was back in the balance.
England's bowlers have a lot on their plate this morning: firstly they have to score enough runs to give their team a substantial lead, so they do not have to chase more than 150 in the fourth innings on a dry pitch against Herath.
Then they have to generate chances with the same frequency as on the opening day, when all four pace bowlers were formidable, not least Liam Plunkett, who was so much more effective than at Lord's because he used his bouncer sparingly.
The Telegraph, London