India flashback for Duckett as Sri Lanka stroll
Sri Lanka A 278 for 7 (Gunathilaka 64) beat England Lions 230 for 9 (Jennings 64) by 47 runs (DLS method)
If Ben Duckett was looking for an immediate pick-me-up on the England Lions tour of Sri Lanka after his disheartening time in India, he discovered that life can sometimes be less accommodating than that. The teething problems against high-quality spin that abruptly stilled his Test career were again in evidence as Sri Lanka A strolled the first of five one-day matches.
Sri Lanka's 47-run win on a DLS calculation came in mildly farcical circumstances when play was suspended for bad light with England nine-down and still 60 short with five overs remaining. Vikum Sanjaya bowled a bouncer at the Lions' last man, Josh Poysden, the light meters came out and that was that. It was a predictably unsatisfying end after no overs had been removed when the match had started half-an-hour late after overnight rain.
Whether Duckett breaks into the Champions Trophy squad this summer will not entirely depend on his fate over the next 10 days or so - England in June does not bear too much relation to the challenges on subcontinent pitches and he has too much natural talent to be subdued for long - but England will want to see evidence on this tour that he has suffered no lasting effects from his exposure against Ashwin and co.
Instead, first up was an uncomfortable reminder of his India issues. This time the off-break bowler was Danushka Gunathilaka, who might not have Ashwin's reputation - indeed, he has five international wickets in 21 appearances - but who unpicked the Northants' left-hander efficiently enough. Duckett was 17 when he advanced down the line of leg stump to strike Gunathilaka over the off side only to be stumped by a distance.
England have given him every chance to get into one-day mode, omitting him from the four-day leg of the tour as if to stress that they want his rehabilitation to come with a strong one-day bias. They want the Lions players to feel the scrutiny, despite the tiny crowds, and even after one game he will know what they mean.
It was Duckett's prodigious form for the Lions last summer, backed by heavy run-making for Northants, which catapulted him into England reckoning. Four innings brought 448 runs at an average of 224, including an unbeaten 220 against Sri Lanka A in Canterbury. Not that Sri Lanka were likely to suffer any ill effects from those memories with only Thisara Perera, a veteran in A-team terms at 27, surviving from that XI.
The presence not just of Thisara Perera, but Kusal Perera too, amplified the difference in experience between the two sides. Sri Lanka had 10 players with international experience, the Perera twosome accounting for more than half of their 400-plus caps. The Lions could point only to a handful of caps for Duckett and the captain, Keaton Jennings, all of them won in recent months.
Jennings habitually got out when set in the two four-day matches, so his adept 64 from 70 balls to underpin England's pursuit of 290 in 48 overs represented an improvement. A top-edged sweep against the round-arm offspin of Shehan Jayasuriya caused his downfall, the first of four Lions wickets to fall for 15 runs in 28 balls and, at 133 for 7, effectively sealed their fate.
Sri Lanka's winning margin was trimmed thanks to a defiant eighth-wicket stand of 73 in 11 overs between Liam Livingstone, who was on the back of two hundreds in a match in Pallekele, and Craig Overton, who had done little else than sit and watch them. Overton's first match of the tour was an impressive one: an unbeaten 60 from 45 balls - his first List A half-century - plus two top-order wickets in Sri Lanka A's 278 for 7, an innings ended 11 balls early because of rain. As a youngster, he was a batsman who bowled and to be carded at No 9 here is something that should cause him to aspire to better things.
With Sri Lanka A fielding seven left-handers in the top eight, the Lions were grateful not just for Overton's lead with the ball but also for Livingstone's sound stint of offspin, only 28 conceded in a spell that allowed little width and, after he dismissed Sandun Weerakkody in his final over, caught at the wicket, rounded off with two legspinners to the incoming right-hander.
But the Lions' seam attack lacked variety, James Fuller had an off-day and Poysden dropped his legspinners repeatedly short and suffered as a consequence. Half-centuries from the openers Kusal Perera and Gunathilaka in an opening stand of 123, plus a hard-hitting unbeaten 56 off 35 balls from Thisara Perera, gave Sri Lanka A dominance they never relinqushed.
Outplayed in England last summer, they are a different proposition here. Duckett is not alone in recognising that.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps