Galle, day one

It should have been England’s day. Any time one loses the toss and promptly reduces one’s opponent to 15-3 should be a good day. And England did just that. Despite announcing that Samit Patel would play, but at number seven (I expected either Patel at six or Bresnan at seven, but not this) and then losing the toss and having to bowl, they took three quick wickets and put Sri Lanka under pressure. England let it slip badly at the end though. They seemed to just tire out. It was very hot in Galle, so there’s every chance that they did just that, but it was still disappointing and I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect better. England had a great opportunity to put their foot on the throat of Sri Lanka, but instead the home side finished on 289-8 and if England are in front at all, it is only just barely.

Sri Lanka actually provided most of the action today. England bowled pretty much as they always do at the start of the day: pretty tight, mostly outside off, full and swinging a bit. And this got wickets in the way it often does: the batsmen were impatient and played at balls they ought to have left. Sangakkara played a particularly unexpected flash outside off to his first ball, and Dilshan’s innings was Sehwag-esque in it’s horror. It was good bowling by England, but the fact that Sri Lanka had mostly thrown their wickets away was evident and Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera knuckled down. They played sensibly and Broad and Anderson could not bowl long spells in the heat.

This was where I think the flaws of England’s selection started to show. There’s a long way to go in the match, of course, and we have not seen Patel’s batting yet, but I do not think we needed three spinners. We started the match with the new ball swinging a bit and troubling the batsmen, but we had to bring the seamers off quickly in the heat and bring on spin. Panesar was good, but he rarely looked incisive, merely containing. Swann was the opposite: he bowled some magic balls and was unlucky not to get a wicket, but he also went at a considerable rate. Neither were what we needed with Sri Lanka at 30-3, we needed someone like Tim Bresnan or Steven Finn. I would have picked Bresnan to play and we know that he can pitch the ball up and nip it about. That is what was causing the batsmen problems, but instead we had to waste some of the new ball by bowling spin. Of course, Patel did take two wickets. The first one was a rank gift (most of the Sri Lankan wickets were), but the second one was a better bit of bowling. It was later in the day, after Herath had played very defensively against Swann and Panesar he tried to get some runs off Patel and was lbw missing a sweep. The fact that neither Monty or Swann got a wicket will make it look like a very good selection, but at least so far I think that is deceiving.

Still, things went well for England for most of the day. After that early burst, Sri Lanka needed a giant partnership to re-establish control of the match and there did not seem to be one forthcoming. All of their batsmen after Sangakkara made starts if not more, but Chandimal’s 27 was the highest. England never had a stranglehold on the match like they briefly did at the beginning, but they were comfortably on top and with Sri Lanka on 191-7 it looked like it would be a very good day. This was roughly when everything started to fall apart. Jimmy Anderson missed what should have been a comfortable caught and bowled when Jayawardene was on 90 and the Sri Lankan captain hit the next ball for six. Later Monty dropped him twice in successive overs. The first drop was pardonable, the ball clearly went right into the sun and Monty never really saw it. The second was horrendous though. It went straight up and despite having ample time to prepare he tried to change his catching position (from the so-called ‘English’ stance with the fingers pointed away from the body to the so-called ‘Australian’ style of fingers pointed back)* at the last second and shelled it.

Jayawardene played very, very well of course. After getting to his century he seemed determined to blast Sri Lanka to the highest score he could. He rotated the strike brilliantly to protect Herath and picked the gaps with an ease that seemed almost unfair. He did offer those two chances to the second new ball, but even by then England were already reeling a bit. He did fantastically well all afternoon to steady the ship and at the end he came very close to getting Sri Lanka back on level terms. It was a true captain’s innings and he deserves a massive amount of praise.

Anderson’s third wicket, a lovely inswinger to trap Other Jayawardene lbw, was the 252nd of his career. Which may seem like an odd one to mark (250 being the logical choice) but this was significant as it brings him level with the great Brian Statham for career wickets. Often I brush this off as a result of the large number of Tests played in this era, but Anderson has actually achieved this in three fewer Tests than Statham. (Though Statham does have the better average.) This is even more noteworthy considering the long lean patch Jimmy had earlier in his career. It was already clear that Jimmy was one of the best bowlers in the world right now, but given the fact that he has plenty of time left in his career he may be remembered as one of the best English bowlers of all time.

It’s always a bit hard to know where a match stands after the first day of the series (unless the batting side is skittled for 100, which is usually pretty clear) and with England batting second this is not an exception. If one offered England 289-8 immediately after losing the toss they would have accepted. If one made the same offer after Sri Lanka were reduced to 15-3, I expect they would have declined. Tomorrow will mostly be a day for England’s batting. The pith is flat and Sri Lanka’s attack is not particularly threatening and a big score should be on the cards. There is turn, however, and if their mental daemons resurface Sri Lanka could find themselves very well placed. England have lost the chance to bat with the pressure off, however, and Strauss and Cook must get the innings off to a good start. I expect they will still be batting at stumps, whether both on 150* or following-on I’m not sure, however.

*This is actually one of the few technical aspects of cricket of which I actually have some knowledge and I have always preferred having the fingers point backward. By getting one’s head under the ball, it’s apparent motion becomes almost non-existent and it is much easier to track the ball into the hands. The alternative method – fingers out, catching near the stomach – means that one has to follow the ball and make any last minute corrections as it passes in front of one’s face at upwards of 30m/s. That is rather harder, at least for a very high catch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s