There is aggression and there is foolhardiness, and on Tuesday morning in Galle England crossed the line. After winning a potentially crucial toss, they staggered into lunch at 113 for five, with the last three of those wickets the product of overzealous batting.
At 72 for two, with Keaton Jennings and Joe Root nudging five an over, England might have argued that their busyness was not misplaced. But there had been risks along the way.
Root survived a big sweep on 25 because the ball from Akila Dananjaya had hit him fractionally outside the line. And, on 26, Jennings was badly dropped off the same bowler by Angelo Mathews at slip, trying to work a googly to leg. It was entertaining, but not convincing.
England lost five wickets, including captain Joe Root, in the opening session of the first Test
Debutant Rory Burns was the first to go, strangled down the leg-side off Suranga Lakmal
Moeen Ali, England’s first drop, then had his off stump removed first ball by Lakmal
England’s luck ran out when Root danced down the track to Rangana Herath, yorked himself, and was bowled for 35 – a wicket that brought up the soon-to-retire Herath’s 100th in Tests at Galle. A fireworks of sort went off at the Fort End, though the bang might easily have been Root slapping bat on forehead.
Jennings, meanwhile, was sweeping confidently and had moved to 46, his highest score since returning to the side against Pakistan at Headingley in June. Unaccountably, he lent back to cut the first ball of a new spell from off-spinner Dilruwan Perera, who sent down a quicker one and knocked back middle stump. It was an utter waste.
And England were 103 for five when Ben Stokes went so far across his stumps to sweep Perera that he was bowled middle stump behind his legs for seven.
Earlier, they lost two wickets in the third over after play unexpectedly started on time following Monday night’s deluge. Rory Burns’s first scoring shot in Test cricket was a neat clip off his legs for four, but when Suranga Lakmal strayed down leg, Burns could only help a deflection into the hands of wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella. Out for nine, he walked off with a shake of the head.
The tourists then looked to steady the ship and Keaton Jennings looked assured at the crease
Jennings was eventually dismissed after seeing his captain Root head back to the pavilion
All-rounder Ben Stokes then put England in dire straits after missing his sweep shot
Next ball, Moeen Ali missed a straight one, as Lakmal went round the wicket: 10 for two, with Root required to avert a hat-trick.
For a crowd dominated by travelling fans, some of them still making their way into the ground, this was an unsettling start to the day. And while Jennings and Root responded with a flurry of boundaries, England never quite played the percentages.
Their two wicketkeepers, Jos Buttler and debutant Ben Foakes (who has the gloves), will need to double the score after lunch if England are not to blow their early tilt at the ascendancy.