Thursday 29 March 2012

Sri Lanka Defeat England in Thrilling Test...

Well we hoped for a while, didn’t we?

As Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior expertly marshalled England to a score of 233-4 chasing an improbable total of 340 in what would have been the biggest successful run chase in the annals of English cricket, even the most pessimistic of England supporters, myself included, had begun to harbour a trace of hope. 

Herath - Destroyer in Chief
Bookmakers had by this point installed England as odds on favourites to claim victory, clearly more confident than those Englishmen simultaneously chewing fingernails to the bone and worrying that one more wicket would spark a batting apocalypse the likes of which only England are capable of initiating. 

The pessimists, as they tend to be when discussing England in the sub-continent, were of course correct. A collapse of stock market proportions circa 1929 ensued upon the rather unfortunate dismissal of Prior, resulting in the last six English wickets falling for a meagre 31 runs.

There were positives to take from England’s doomed run chase at Galle, an effort in which they ultimately fell short by 75 runs; not least the manner in which Trott and Prior vigilantly accumulated runs and successfully rotated the strike without undue risk against Sri Lanka’s spinners. Trott in particular highlighted the value of patience, technique and supreme concentration in such conditions. Such an approach was worryingly absent in the UAE at the beginning of the year, and there had been little evidence to suggest that had altered during the first innings here at Galle. The pre-meditated sweep shot in particular proved the downfall of many an England batsman.

It is surely now time for England’s batsmen to stow the broom away in the cupboard until bowlers request it to be used. A feature of the UAE humbling by Pakistan was England kindly offering an over-excitable pitch cleaning service that swept profusely and came free with ten wickets. It appears to still be in existence. 

The sweep shot should not be abandoned, as some are suggesting, and is a key weapon against spin bowling, indeed the great Muttiah Muralitharan despised being swept, but it is a dangerous shot to play to a ball pitching on middle stump. England’s batsmen were again all too keen to pre-meditate the shot here, and once more it proved costly.

As alluded to previously, Prior was perhaps the unluckiest of those to fall as a result of the sweep shot. Connecting well, he could only look on in incredulity as the short-leg fielder Thirimanne showed tremendous anticipation in covering the path of the ball, followed by commendable bravery in taking a blow to the midriff and instant reactions (to add to his rapidly expanding list of accolades) to hold on as it rebounded from his body.

Hope, now diminished from a trace to a mere wisp, still clung on by its fingertips. Debutant Samit Patel boasts a very healthy first class batting record, and being a competent player of spin offered some optimism that he could pick up where Prior had left off. The fact that he got out after reaching only 9 to a rash shot, perhaps borne of inexperience in such a pressured situation, firmly hammered the final nail in to England’s hastily constructed coffin. 

Credit where it is due to Sri Lanka, who relied upon a collection of magnificent individual performances to win this Test match. Captain Mahela Jayawardene batted superbly as others fell around him during a mammoth first innings knock of 180, and his un-related namesake Prasanna kept wicket with distinction along with making a crucial unbeaten 61 in Sri Lanka’s second innings as they endeavoured to set England an unreachable target. Most praise should perhaps be reserved for the unheralded Rangana Herath, though, whose twelve wickets in the match ultimately proved England’s bane and earned him the man of the match award.  

England must now win the second Test in Colombo starting next week if they are to take a share of this series and avoid being usurped by South Africa atop the Test rankings. Evidence compiled across the last four days at Galle would suggest that it may prove a rather difficult task, but the application shown by Trott and Prior on the final day should offer some encouragement that this rotten run of four consecutive Test defeats can be arrested.

What we have seen from England in 2012 thus far is not befitting of a side entitled the world’s finest, with many labelling Andrew Strauss’ side a flash in the pan. They now have one Test to prove otherwise and repair battered reputations, and Strauss himself may not have too much time to convince an increasingly sceptical public that he has what it takes to play international cricket any longer.    

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