Silva finds a new lease of life

The grip of Kaushal Silva's bat is orange. It is the colour of road cones, of warning signs, of hi-visibility vests - of proceeding with care. In a domestic system where strike rates are high, and batting averages low, Silva had beaten out more than two dozen first-class hundred before a long run in the team was his. "We have strokemakers," a team selector said last year. "Kaushal is there to give the innings some substance."

But as you watch Silva repeat through his pre-ball neuroses; when umpires are relentlessly harassed to give him his guard, when the pads are manhandled, gloves furiously adjusted, and vendettas against Velcro carried out, it is easy to be put on edge. In the stands, limbs stiffen and hair stands on end. The air gathers a little tauter around spectators' throats.

In 2015, not long after the selector had lauded Silva's virtues, this air began to constrict him. Silva had always been a man of checked risks: of shouldered arms, upright elbows to go with the uptight demeanour at the crease. But though it's said of the best batsmen that they have more time to play the ball, Silva's batting appeared to bring time to a complete standstill.

In his 11 most-recent innings at home, he had hit one half-century but otherwise mired himself in dithering innings, which brought returns like 17 off 49 balls or 5 off 24. At times it seemed like his plan to score runs was to put everyone to sleep, then change the scorecard after the stadium had nodded off. Eventually, the selectors stopped seeing substance in him. A New Zealand series was watched from home, another tough first-class season marking his route back to the Test side.

But at Lord's, in his comeback series, Silva found a little part of himself that had not been there before. Wide balls were still not quite flayed to the square fence - it was more like their travel route had been charted out; the shots put in motion only after a well-lit runway for the ball was established. But in his third-over four through cover, off James Anderson, there was a smack of freedom. In his racing to 18 off 22 balls, a slight peeping out of the carefully-constructed defensive shell.

His opening partner made his name as the impetuous part of the pairing, so often flashing his bat like a glinting blade, standing tall on the pitch and speaking boldly off it, yet it was Dimuth Karunaratne who seemed to hold their partnership back in this innings. While he soaked up 50 balls to move from 27 to 32, Silva staved stagnation away, puncturing the ring field to sneak singles, and slapping Steven Finn for two fours behind point in the over before tea.

Together the pair put on their team's first century opening stand since before Sri Lanka won the World T20. The last time the openers made it to triple figures, Kumar Sangakkara was still three double-hundreds shy of his final tally. Karunaratne and Silva had each spoken of sticking together until they made the new ball old, but for a long time, the only thing this partnership seemed to age was the fans looking on. As Silva broke through personal barriers, this stand made important gains as well.

"I think it was very important to set that tone early in the team's innings," Silva said after stumps. "I wanted to be positive, and when you look to be positive, you leave positively as well. Leaving the new ball is quite important here. But scoring runs off loose balls puts pressure on the bowlers, and having played positively in Durham, I wanted to do that here as well."

Towards the end of the day, as England turned to squeezing tactics, having exhausted the attacking ones, Silva slowed down in the company of Kusal Mendis. In that partnership was an intriguing coming together. Silva has sweated in the nets for his technique, with his cricket-coach father, all his life. So languid and carefree at the crease, Mendis' technique seems like it met him at the bus stop one day, and followed him home like a lovable dog. Eighteen months since leading Sri Lanka's Under-19 team, coaches are already raving about Mendis' batting the way Silva perhaps has wished they would speak about his, all his career.

But that is Silva's place in the world. If he gets the long Test career he is so clearly desperate to have, he will forever find himself in dressing rooms with more talented men, who have not worked so hard to be there. But that doesn't mean there is nothing to learn from them. And it doesn't mean Silva is any less valuable to the team. On the second day at Lord's Sri Lanka held tightly to Silva, as Silva let go of a few hang ups. At times, there was even style to go with his substance.