The secrets of successful skippering
Midway through Friday afternoon, an unheralded Sri Lankan batsman moving serenely towards a fine Test century, England's most aggressive bowler wicketless for 100 runs and chances going down faster than the lagers in the crowd, Andrew Strauss had to earn his captaincy corn.
The new ball had been and gone, yielding a solitary wicket. James Anderson was off the field, struggling with back and side problems so painful he would later be sent for a scan. The atmosphere inside the ground was as flat as a Welsh cake.
In such unpromising conditions, what is the canny Test skipper to do? How to reignite his spluttering side, to somehow conjure some menace from the most placid of pitches, to wangle out a well-set batsman and manage the frustrations of his struggling strike bowler?
"First things first: engage your Test brain, and not your World Cup brain or your Twenty20 brain," says Alec Stewart, former England and Surrey captain and his country's most capped Test player.
"There are 450 overs in the match, not 40. To get to where you want to be, you have to put the right building blocks in place: accurate bowling, tight fielding, making the opposition work for their runs, being patient.
"England had a really good first half hour on Friday. They pitched the ball up and got it to swing, so Sri Lanka had to sit in for a while. When they then saw off the new ball, it was England who had to sit in. That's Test cricket.
"We all watch a lot of 50 over cricket, and Twenty20 cricket, so everyone thinks the game always has to move along at a rate of knots. Test cricket doesn't always do that; it's more like a game of chess. You have to know when to attack, and when to defend."
When Anderson had removed Mahela Jayawardene (28 Test centuries, average of 53, top score of 374) for just four, pouched by Strauss at slip in the third over of the day, wickets had looked likely to tumble.
Instead his less illustrious namesake Prasanna (two Test tons, average of 30) made happy hay as 183 runs were scored in the first two sessions of the day.
In a scenario where wickets are badly needed yet runs are flowing, how does a skipper reflect that delicate balance between attack and defence in his field placings?
"When Jayawardene was well set after tea, Strauss had to keep a positive edge in the field - hence two slips and a gully - but also block up the easy runs, hence the extra cover, mid off and mid on," says Stewart, in Cardiff as an expert summarise for BBC Radio 5 live.
"Sometimes you simply have to sit in and be patient. Very, very rarely do you go out there in the field and go bang bang bang and knock them all down.
"It's a horrible cliché to use, but he would say to his bowlers, you keep the ball in those areas, I'll protect that off side, and your luck will change."
Stuart Broad's dismissal of Brad Haddin in Adelaide on 4th December last year took him to 99 Test wickets. He clearly didn't expect it to take him almost six more months to become the 44th England bowler to bag the ton.
Strauss' astute leadership helped peg back Sri Lanka when a score approaching 500 had seemed likely
On Friday the frustration showed, not only as the runs piled up in his figures but as chances were spilt and umpire referrals went against him. Maharoof survived tight lbw shouts with the Sri Lankan total on 247-5 and 253-5; after Broad was left without a shout when he thought Billy Doctrove should have given Jayawardene out at 257-5, his cheeks were puce and his arms tea-potting.
How and when does the clever captain intervene?
"That's where your man management skills comes in, and also your tactical nous," says Stewart. "If as skipper you saw Broad go wicketless to 100, and start getting frustrated with the decisions that didn't go his way, you wouldn't try to stop him, but you would do enough to make sure he didn't blow a gasket.
"You want your players to express themselves, and you want them to be fired up, but you also want them to be under control when they are."
Broad has barely bowled since returning injured from the World Cup, taking only five wickets in his two first-class matches for Nottinghamshire this season. When handling a player who is clearly underprepared, how long does his captain give him to rediscover his best? Where should the line be drawn between giving him a chance to bowl himself into form, and giving away too many easy runs to the opposition?
"Once you're picked, you're picked as if you're in tip top shape," says Stewart. "Broad might be coming back from injury, and he might be a little undercooked, but how many batsmen come into the side off three single figure scores?
"That's reality, and as a player you have to deal with it. Jonathan Trott has hardly set the world alight for Warwickshire this season, but he averages almost 60 in Test cricket and will expect to maintain that here in Cardiff.
"That's where the mind games come in, even if you're having to kid yourself sometimes. It's a Test match, you've been picked for a reason, perform to those standards."
At times England looked flat in the field on Friday. While they got lucky when Trott deflected Jayawardene's drive onto the non-striker's stumps to run out Maharoof, Alastair Cook, Eoin Morgan and Strauss all dropped makeable if tough chances, while Kevin Pietersen missed an easy run out chance at Perera by a Cardiff mile.
How to keep chins up when standards are down?
"Firstly, these guys are all Test cricketers. It's their responsibility to make sure they're
always in the right frame of mind.
"Secondly, you can't make people behave like people they're not. Okay, you've got naturally sparky players like Graeme Swann, but then you might have someone like Pietersen, who will walk around with his hands in his pockets. He's not being negative - that's just the way his body language works - so don't try to make him jump about like someone else.
"This is a good pitch, and you have to work for both your wickets and your runs. When you do get a wicket you go in for the kill. That new man is likely to give you a chance, even a small one, at some point in his first 20 balls. If he doesn't, drop off again and make them work for it.
"As skipper you will bring the players together at scheduled moments, like before the start of play and at tea. You will also do it spontaneously at opportune moments, like the drinks break or at the fall of wicket.
"But you don't want to overcomplicate things, and you don't want to get inside your own bowler's head. At most you will give your players two points to think about. Keep it simple, keep it clear, keep it short.
"For example, at tea time the bowling coach might go over with his laptop to someone like Broad and just say, this is your pitch map, 70% of your deliveries are on a length, 20% might be a bit short, they've scored most of their runs off the latter, let's try to pitch it up a bit more."
With England 47-1 going into Saturday, 353 in arrears with three days left and further rain forecast over the weekend, Strauss will have further opportunities to show off his skippering skills.
His batsmen should fill their boots on an easy pitch, his fielders improve in the second innings and his attack have more overs in the tank. But they will still need to be marshalled well. This series may turn out to be tighter than some anticipated.