Bell-Drummond, Alsop give Carberry a reason to smile
England Lions 246 for 5 (Bell-Drummond 100, Alsop 96) beat Sri Lanka A 242 (Samarawickrama 54, White 3-53, Roland-Jones 3-58) by five wickets
"Carbs' boys," they called themselves with the broadest of smiles, and for Michael Carberry, back in training with Hampshire after treatment for cancer, their matchwinning combination will be an uplifting moment. Throughout his personal fight against illness, his support for the up-and-coming generation has never wavered. More than 5000 miles away, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Tom Alsop assembled a partnership to give him cause for celebration.
Alsop is a Hampshire team-mate of Carberry's; Bell-Drummond received coaching and encouragement in London schools cricket and still turns occasionally to him for advice. A double-century stand and, finally, a Lions one-day victory at the end of it, meant that Carbs' boys were riding high. Their partnership of exactly 200 was a new third-wicket record for the Lions in all their guises over the past 25 years and more. James Taylor held it, with Ravi Bopara, which is a reminder to Alsop and Bell-Drummond to treasure every moment.
But something divided them. It was as if Donald Trump had suddenly glanced at the scoreboard as they entered the nineties and decided to build a wall. Bell-Drummond had a century to his name at the end of it all, Alsop fell just short. Sometimes the smallest margins can bring a cruel separation.
The Lions were 12 for 2 in search of 244 when Bell-Drummond and Alsop joined forces. "Wobbly," Alsop agreed, considering the one-day tour they had endured. For the next 35 overs, they methodically charted a course to victory. Alsop's first run fell uncomfortably close to square leg and Bell-Drummond had to stave off a delivery early in his innings that came through unnaturally low, but from that point their association possessed admirable tranquillity. Neither gave a chance.
They fell within seven balls of each other, but it is their respective runs tally they will most remember; Alsop fell four runs short of what would have been his second List A century when he was stumped off the offspinner Charith Asalanka. Bell-Drummond, on 99 when Alsop departed, did negotiate the single he needed for what was his second List A hundred - both for the Lions - before he was bowled by Chaturanga de Silva. Joe Clarke then failed before a five-wicket win was secured in fading light with 16 balls to spare.
Alsop was a bit of a punt on this tour, a 21-year-old with one strong 50-over season behind him. Things have only come good in the closing days of the tour, a satisfying finale for the England selectors who determinedly push youth at A-team level, especially now when their 50-over batting at senior level is so strong. "It is my first time on a subcontinent wicket and it has been a hard learning curve," Alsop said. "It was disappointing not to get a hundred but after the tour I've had I'll take that."
"I wasn't that surprised when he got picked for this tour," Bell-Drummond said, with impressive grace. "The talent is there to see. I am glad he transferred it to the middle today and showed what a good player he can become in the future."
Sri Lanka had made sweeping changes after taking the five-match series with three victories in the cultural triangle, but they still fielded seven players with international experience.
With Sri Lanka engaged in a Test down in Galle against Bangladesh, the Lions would readily concede that their victory against Sri Lanka A was not the biggest cricketing story on the island.
In fact, it was not even the biggest story in town. Down the road from Colombo Cricket Club, at the Sinhalese Sports Club, old boys of Royal and St Thomas Colleges were engaging in an annual ritual - the 138th Battle of the Blues, a three-day school game that can be expected to attract 10,000 spectators by the final day on Saturday. History suggests that old memories will be retold to the backdrop of young cricketers desperate to avoid the embarrassment of defeat.
No matter. The Lions were desperate for consolation on one of Colombo's most historic grounds - as old as Yorkshire, having marked its 150th anniversary in 2014 - with large portraits of Harold Larwood and Don Bradman on the walls and ancient ceiling fans whirring above timeworn wooden floors in the Members' Pavilion. It is a wonderful spot.
The portrait of Larwood in delivery stride marks his appearance on the ground three years before the infamous Bodyline tour. As the picture fades, with every passing year, Larwood's whites seem dirtier than ever, even his forearms now look thick with grime. It somehow seems entirely appropriate, whereas to discover Bradman's whites are no longer pristine might almost seem heretical.
There were those, however, who only had eyes for the Lions. Two Northants supporters from Kettering had journeyed up from the beach resort of Bentota to see Graeme White, at 29, make a Lions debut and receive his cap from Mick Newell, the England selector, who as Notts director of cricket had seen him make an amicable departure to his first county, Northants, in 2015 in search of regular Championship cricket.
White had a satisfying day, following a slightly nervous first spell with something more considered upon switching to the pavilion end, his 3 for 53 including Asalanka, caught in the deep, Angelo Perera, who pulled a short ball to mid-on, and Sri Lanka A's new captain, Ashan Priyanjan, who was neatly stumped by Ben Foakes after White turned one past the outside edge.
For the first half of Sri Lanka A's innings, the series continued in familiar vein, with the home side firmly in control at 172 for 2 in the 30th over with heady visions of 320-plus. They made only 242. Liam Livingstone produced a steady-as-she-goes spell of offspin when the assault was at its height, bowling both openers, Danushka Gunathilaka and Ron Chandraguptha. This time, there was no switch to legspin when faced by the right-handers, just a certainty under pressure which once again spoke of a cricketer of strong character.
White's intervention turned the game. Toby Roland-Jones, a late replacement on tour, picked up three wickets in a borrowed shirt emblazoned with the name of his Middlesex team-mate Tom Helm. There was a first wicket of the series, too, for Sam Curran, Ramith Rambukwella's stumps demolished with a full-length ball, a meaningful celebration bringing consolation on a tough tour in which he has found little swing and his elder brother, Tom, has decamped to the Caribbean for his first call-up with the senior squad.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps