WHAT could easily have been a day of firsts for two England batsmen ended up being more about efficiency than history-making at the end of a positive start to the second Test against the Sri Lankans.

It should have been the morning when Alastair Cook took advantage of the cooler North-East conditions against the tourists at the Emirates Riverside by claiming the 20 runs that would have seen him become the first Englishman to pass 10,000 Test runs.

It should also have been an afternoon when Alex Hales recorded his first century for his country as England ended the day in control on 310/6; after flashes of Joe Root’s class and Jonny Bairstow’s quality, even if it became a day of missed milestones for them too.

Captain Cook was left frustrated after being caught on 15, one shy of his tally in the first meeting at Headingley, when he was made to pay for his second loose shot inside a week.

When Suranga Lakmal didn’t find full length, Cook jabbed his shot to second slip where Dimuth Karunaratne made a brilliant catch.

As the 31-year-old, failing to display all the hallmarks of a man on the verge of becoming only the 12th player in history to pass the 10,000 mark, trudged off the pitch, head bowed, it was clear he knew this was a missed opportunity.

His time will come, maybe even in the second innings, although courtesy of effective knocks from Hales, Root and Bairstow, England have made sufficient progress to suggest this will be another routine win if things follow a similar pattern on day two.

With Cook looking on from the pavilion for most of the proceedings, along with the rest of the well-below capacity crowd at the Emirates Riverside, England took charge.

Sri Lanka, while much improved from their Leeds trouncing, will face a hefty chase by the end of the second day, despite some exceptional fielding which brought the end of Cook, Nick Compton, Hales, Root and James Vince.

The pick of the catches was from Compton’s wild pull to deep square leg boundary from Nuwan Pradeep, where Rangana Herath somehow back-stepped, jumped and landed with the ball in two hands without touching the rope.

The one that claimed the wicket of Hales wasn’t bad either; and the manner in which the Middlesex opener had flowed through his opening 144 balls made his wicket a greater coup for Sri Lanka to claim.

Immediately after Hales had smashed the only six of the day, Milinda Siriwardana got his own back by getting him to commit. He edged to first slip where Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews somehow arched his body enough to catch slightly behind him.

It might have ended Hales’ double hopes of beating his previous best total – 86 secured in the first Test – and earning a first Test century too, but it also brought an end to his dangerous partnership with Root.

That third wicket stand racked up 93 runs from 136 balls, the majority of which were after lunch, and allowed England to take on a different presence in a match which had seen Cook and Compton disappear from the crease inside 64 runs.

Without the presence of a Durham player performing in a Three Lions shirt on North-East turf, the low turnout in spectators – which included Ben Stokes and his family during his recovery from knee surgery – could at least enjoy the batting of Yorkshire’s Root and Bairstow after Hales’ exit.

The gifted Root, from Sheffield, showed his steel to bounce back from falling for a duck at Headingley by displaying some of the craft that has earned him nine Test centuries already during an extremely promising career.

After reaching 50 from 70 balls he ended up on 80 before misjudging Pradeep’s delivery and spooning his defence shot to cover where Kaushal Silva was lurking to gather. That fourth wicket stand with Vince heralded 59 runs of the total in just 69 balls, with the latter not hanging around much longer either.

The Hampshire man lasted under three overs when Lahiru Thirimanne made another excellent catch for the archives. This time the Sri Lankan dived to his right at short cover to hold when Siriwardana claimed his second of his two for 35 figures.

Step forward Bairstow to complete the job. He might have survived an earlier marginal review, but the Yorkshire middle-order man was in a tormenting frame of mind before he bottom edged Pradeep behind to Dinesh Chandimal.

The 26-year-old, from Bradford, hit five fours and tended to choose his shots wisely on his way to returning 48 from just 57 balls alongside Moeen Ali (28 no) to frustrate Lakmal and Co until Pradeep struck his third wicket of the day from 69 runs.

But England, who will resume with Ali alongside Chris Woakes, have left Sri Lanka with a daunting task over the weekend in dry but cool conditions that should only favour the hosts.

If the tourists’ batting has improved as much as their fielding, though, this could still turn out to be a decent game.