Déjà vu all over again

From a pitch expected to be lifeless, Sri Lanka's working-class attack squeezed three first-session wickets out. On a first day some suspected might be fruitless, six batsmen were wangled back to the pavilion, and Sri Lanka were occasionally strutting about.

But then, at some point in the day, their outlook changed. An easy catch was spilt. Chances were missed. Balls scooted into fielders' hands, then accelerated out, as if having got a second wind. And an opposition batsman in the lower middle order made a smart hundred. He strung hefty partnerships together along the way.

Hang on, hasn't this happened already? Three weeks ago, Sri Lanka had had England 83 for 5 before the hosts surged to 298, Jonny Bairstow helping himself. Oh wait, but that was in a colder crosswind, and in front of a sparser crowd, at Headingley.

Although, 12 days ago, didn't Sri Lanka have their opposition five down again, before England eventually went on to more than double their score - a No. 7 romping to triple figures? Oh, but that was in the even colder crosswind, and in front of the even sparser crowd, at Chester-le-Street.

In Bairstow's 107 not out at Lord's, the ghosts of many lower middle-order tormentors of Sri Lanka were invoked. When he cracked Nuwan Pradeep to the square-leg boundary in the 32nd over, he was Sarfraz Ahmed, who leapt around the crease to cut and pull, rescuing Pakistan from a big first-innings deficit and delivering them instead a lead, first at the SSC in 2014, then in Galle less than a year ago.

When the catch off Bairstow dribbled onto the turf in the 36th over, he was Kane Williamson being shelled at fine leg in 2015, en route to a match-upending double ton. Or Moeen Ali being let off at gully at Chester-le-Street, en route to 155 not out. Or Bairstow being put down by the bowler at Headingley, on his way to 140.

And when Moeen and Chris Woakes played good supporting hands, in partnerships worth 63 and 52 unbroken respectively, they were Zulfiqur Babar hitting a half-century from No. 10, or Morne Morkel scratching out an important partnership alongside JP Duminy.

To say Sri Lanka have opponents by the shirt collar then let them go is, by now, an understatement. They've let go of the collar, apologetically smoothed out any crinkles they may have caused, then asked any more shirts that needed ironing. They've taken the foot off the pedal, sprinted out to the front of the slowing car, and then got themselves run over.

At the end of the day, they sent the same player they had sat in front of the media inside the first two days of the first two Tests. He answered in the same old way, the same old tired questions the same old boring journalists asked of him.

"We dropped crucial chances in Durham and here as well," Rangana Herath said when asked about Sri Lanka's difficulties with the lower middle order. "Throughout the series the catching has cost us big time. Catching is one discipline that we need to improve a lot. But then it's part of the game. The important thing is tomorrow morning we need to come back and do well. The first hour tomorrow is going to be very crucial. We need to bowl them out as soon as possible."

In some ways, Sri Lanka are like the has-been band, still touring around the world, playing the same set-list. Only, they have been on the road so long, they've forgotten they have played this same concert at this venue before. In their most recent Lord's Test in 2014, they had had England at 120 for 4 on the first day. England wound up eventually declaring on 575 for 9.

The problems for this young team are many, but among the most familiar is this propensity to leak runs. Since the start of 2015, they have surrendered 30.12 runs to the last five partnerships in an opposition innings, on average. No team has been worse.

A scoreline of 279 for 6 on an unhelpful surface, after losing the toss, represents good returns when taken in isolation. In the greater scheme, it is another revolution on a merry-go-round of middling days that could have been outstanding ones.