Sri Lanka A v England Lions, 5th unofficial ODI, Colombo March 11, 2017

Helm enhances reputation with five-for in win


England Lions 124 for 5 (Jennings 38) beat Sri Lanka A 192 (Gunathilaka 51, Helm 5-33) by 12 runs (Duckworth-Lewis method)

Tom Helm's 5 for 33 was the fifth five-for in Lions history © ECB

Tom Helm had expressed modest ambitions for his first England Lions tour. "One of my main aims was to leave the tour in one piece," he said. A young fast bowler can soon become philosophical when his early career is strewn with stress fractures and injury mishaps in the field. But he has not merely survived, he has finished with his reputation enhanced.

With Helm to the fore, England Lions again chose the colonial-style backdrop of Colombo Cricket Club to salvage respectability from their lost one-day series in Sri Lanka. A second win in 48 hours cut the margin of defeat to 3-2 and, after the batting exploits of Daniel Bell-Drummond and Tom Alsop on Thursday, came the fast-bowling promise of Helm, who returned the second-best figures in Lions history.

Finally, records are available for nearly 30 years of Lions cricket in all its guises ­ - the ECB deserves credit for that ­ - and they reveal that Helm's 5 for 33 was only the fifth five-wicket haul in Lions history, surpassed only by Tom Curran's 5 for 16 against UAE in Dubai before Christmas. Curran was pulled out of the one-day leg of the Sri Lanka tour to join England's senior squad in the West Indies; Helm did enough to encourage hopes that one day he may follow.

Even before this display, Helm felt like one of the successes of the tours, only without the stand-out performance to amplify the thought. His director of cricket at Middlesex, Gus Fraser, was on hand when he was limited to two wickets in a four-day affair in Kandy, although they were good ones as he made both balls bounce to leave Fraser nodding with appreciation. He found ways to concern batsmen on Sri Lankan pitches, was unafraid to vary his approach and was forewarned of the challenges ahead by England age-group experience in India earlier in his career.

A Lions tour had not been on his mind after a season in which he made only four appearances in all competitions. He was pleased enough to be called up to a fast bowling camp, but he quickly impressed and with England's youthful pace resources not exactly limitless his promotion quickly followed.

Strangely, he looks more powerful on the pitch than off it, which might say something about a strong, repeatable action as well as a mild disposition. England might still want him to bulk up a little, especially considering an injury record that he will hope is now behind him. His parents have watched him throughout the tour and have even been able to draw pleasure from the first six of his List A career.

Helm will now go to Dubai for a Middlesex pre-season tour (Fraser having abandoned the practice tent at Radlett in deference to last year's Championship win) and for the Champion County match against the MCC.

"I couldn't be happier with how the winter's turned out," Helm said. "It's not really how I expected it to go. It's a lovely place to come, but tough as a seamer. I bowled a lot of balls that should have been hit to the fence, and they ended up hitting them to fielders. I felt like other days I've bowled better but they've hit good balls to the fence."

As the Lions' tour of Sri Lanka drew to a halt, the other match in Colombo 7 was still attracting more attention. Down the road at Sinhalese Sports Club, the 138th Battle of the Blues was heading for another inevitable draw, or at least deemed that way by a convivial Bar-Propper, with a grand beard and even grander feathered hat who marked the start of play at Colombo Cricket Club with his first hard liquor of the day.

"I might go down there later," he said, signalling down Maitland Place, where the unerring responsibility shown by the young players of Royal and St Thomas Colleges were being watched ­ - or half-watched - by a crowd of 10,000, "but I tend to get stuck here." There are worst places to linger than the members' bar at CCC, but when Sri Lanka A crumbled to 82 for 6 by the 21st over, he rose from his seat to find consolation in Sri Lanka's most historic schools contest.

Helm had begun that decline in his first over with two wickets in successive balls, grateful when Ron Chandraguptha slapped one to cover and bowling Sadeera Samarawickrama first ball. Two wicket-keeper catches accounted in later spells for Angelo Perera and Dasun Shanaka, before he returned for a final time to end a vexing last-wicket stand of 52 with a leg-stump yorker to remove the imposing Ramith Rambukwella.

"I'm glad I got him out first ball because I was cramping," Helm said. "It would have been a long over otherwise."

Helm's incursions had been followed by another unyielding spell of off spin by Liam Livingstone, 2 for 27 this time as his reliability drew self-destructive moments from Charith Asalanka and Ashan Priyanjan, whose slog sweep down straight midwicket's throat was a curious shot from a captain at that stage of the contest.

Livingstone has not bowled offspin for long, but you would not credit it. He began the tour intending to bowl legspin (his more common style) at right-handers and offspin at left-handers, but the left-handers in Sri Lanka's line-up have kept coming and because he has been in the groove, as series figures of 7 for 144 in 40 overs testify, the legspin has rarely appeared. His promise as an attacking England one-day batsman and sixth bowler is apparent.

Name a third player to prosper and Ben Foakes, the neatest of wicketkeepers has obvious Test potential. As for the three Test top-order batsman, Haseeb Hameed (in the four-day series) and Ben Duckett and Keaton Jennings throughout the tour have had a largely frustrating time, although without any sense that the disappointment will be terminal.

On the same surface used 48 hours ago, Sri Lanka A were not without hope in defending 192. When the captain, Jennings, holed out at mid-on, so completing his frustrating tour of twenties and thirties, a murder of crows landed malevolently by the England dressing room.

At 90 for 4, chasing 193, the Lions were not dead, but they were certainly unwell. The air was dense with the threat of rain and Sri Lankan expectation. But then came the threat of lightning, the players never returned, and Messrs Duckworth and Lewis proved to be a couple of old colonials. Club sandwich anyone?

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on March 14, 2017, 5:52 GMT

    @D.S.A - just because you prefer one player over another doesn't mean this is not the full strength Lions squad for this year. Like FIDLERRRALBERT said, the James Hildreth issue is for another time another place to discuss. Strongest side, Next in Line, toh-may-toe, toh-mah-toe...doesn't make any difference. James Hildreth's time has passed and yes it's a shame but time to move on. The next England cap will come from this group of players that there is no doubt. I've said it many times before, the next few years will end the debate once and for all of whether Flower is a genius or a total failure. Plenty of places up for grabs on the test squad.

  • manjula on March 13, 2017, 13:17 GMT

    Had they played the full match SL could have won because all top order gone at 124.

  • FIDLERRR on March 13, 2017, 9:29 GMT

    I do however, like 99% of English cricket fans, agree with your comments regarding James Hildreth. The trouble is though, that is such a well-worn story now that most of us have given up talking about it. It's not right, but barring some miracle, it just isn't going to happen (though he has actually featured for both England Lions & U19 before, so perhaps the coaches saw something that we didn't - despite him hitting 2 centuries in 3 matches at U19 Test level, including a double ton!).

  • FIDLERRR on March 13, 2017, 7:53 GMT

    D.S.A. As usual you judge people by your own motives and are jumping to (incorrect) conclusions. As far as I can see all he has done is state the facts about the number of caps in each team. Where on earth does he say the 1st 3 matches don't count?

    Not all of us just use this site to read between the lines & look for conspiracy theories (basically, to use your own words 'read, misintrepret, say any drivel that you like, and hope it sticks' - one of the most hypocritic statements I have ever read)- most of us just enjoy cricket.

  • Devinderpal Singh on March 13, 2017, 4:34 GMT

    The ECB don't take such tours lightly? Does any board? In England's case, the fruits are that they are still a middling limited-overs side (albeit getting better), and a regressing Test side. The "next in line" idea is the problem I am raising as there are clear examples of this not being the case. Jennings does not strike me as one of the next best in 50 over openers, yet this tour is essentially implying that. I think the only reason Jennings is playing in the 50 over matches is because Flower wants Jennings to captain the side, under his gaze. However, it is to Bell-Drummond and Westley's detriment, and therefore, the team's. I agree with the idea of processes having importance but one indicator that certain processes are working is through the result of a given match. Losing the series as quickly as possible shows multiple important factors went wrong, with great effect.

  • Devinderpal Singh on March 13, 2017, 4:26 GMT

    @lmao: I know plenty about English cricket, and your patronising words are ironic, due to the following. You say the Lions fielded their strongest A sides in both series, which means you believe James Hildreth is not good enough for the Lions' First-Class side! Hildreth is one of the best middle-order batsmen in England, and should have toured in Bangladesh and India, but he was ignored yet again. He plays at spinner-friendly Taunton, which undoubtedly should've helped his case for the Test side, and failing that, the Lions side, but alas. Based on merit, he gets into the Lions side with immense ease. If the 50-over side was at its best, how does Jennings (mainly a F-C batsman) make the side, and Bell-Drummond batting out of position, mean their top-order is at its strongest? No wonder they failed against Sri Lanka A's best. Also, where was Westley, who fits in perfectly? The Lions could've had Duckett and B-D open (left and right combo) and Westley at 3, all in their correct spots.

  • Devinderpal Singh on March 13, 2017, 3:43 GMT

    If you haven't noticed, most teams don't tour too well, and the multiple ODI series prove this, so actually, one can field weakened sides and still win.

    If you look again, I wrote "vs an almost U25 England", so I knew there were a few older players. Roland-Jones only played 2 matches, despite not failing in either, especially compared to his great colleagues. Westley wasn't even chosen, despite being a quality batsman, across formats.

    You were fundamentally wrong about what an A side is for. Just because England use it for overwhelmingly young players, that does not mean that they are right to do so. Such "ear-marking" leads to clear bias, which is why you can have the absurdity of James Hildreth not featuring in the Lions' First-Class matches. Hell, he is good enough to be in the Test side ALREADY, but because of "ear-marking" (which leads to the majority of Lions squads being young), Hildreth misses out. An A side is meant to include the next best, with no excuses. End of story.

  • Devinderpal Singh on March 13, 2017, 2:37 GMT

    Fidlerrr to the non-rescue! I love the strategy of, misintrepret, say any drivel that you like, and hope it sticks. Lol. Sri Lanka A picked their best sides for the first 3 matches, and beat England on all 3 occasions. It ended up being so easy that Jayasuriya was able to dominate the 3rd match, and finish off the series with two deadrubbers. They then fielded an inferior side, to see what those players could do. On the other hand, England picked their weak, youthful and inexperienced side, and were trounced until SL A took their foot off of the peddle, which was only AFTER the series was won.

    Re: second sentence: Lol, those differences are exactly what he thinks an A side should and shouldn't include. According to him, the first 3 matches don't count as SL A had experienced players, so only the last 2 matches count...for him. Willful ignorance on your part to ignore the obvious when it is blatantly there.

  • Chatty on March 12, 2017, 18:43 GMT

    I said this last week as well. There are few players in this SL A team who do not deserve a place in the A team. It is just a complete waste of an opportunity, which could go to a very young player. Priyanjan the captain should be the first to be dropped. I have no idea why he is in the A team. Is he there just to captain? He cannot bowl, and he cannot bat. He has a first class batting avg in the mid thirties. SL first class cricket is so mediocre that even with an average of 70, you cannot be sure of the quality of a batsman. When you have 35, need one say more?

  • Nandan on March 12, 2017, 15:08 GMT

    It is good to find Helm come good. In order to retain the Ashes England should take fit fast bowlers who do not break down like last time.Wood,Finn,Woakes,Curran and Overton Bros, Matt Fisher- along with Broad and Anderson seems excessive talent.The new ones could be given a chance during the summer. What of spin? Gamble on Crane.

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