Saturday, 7 April 2012

Tough Hard Men & Test Cricket

"... how we love ya, how we love ya"
It wasn't a day for the T20 crowd, this fourth day at Colombo. On the contrary, this was a dour Test cricket day from England's 1950's which stood in such start contrast to the mayhem of the day before but it was splendid stuff as two sides stood toe to toe, refusing to budge. The facts were that Sri Lanka ground out a shallow lead and that England pressured them all day for six wickets, two of which came in the last half hour.

Beginning the day with their night watchman opener Dhammika Prasad snicking through slips, lobbing near fieldsmen, surviving three good lbw shots and being dropped twice in hitting five boundaries, the appearance was that England would need a change of luck to go with the accurate bowling. At the other end, Lahiru Thiramanne was the first out but only after Matt Prior missed a stumping from Swann's previous over. Prasad's lucky run ended after adding 41 with Tillakaratne Dilshan before holing out to Bresnan's safer hands at backward square leg from Steve Finn. Dislhan added another 40 with Kumar Sangakkara before Graeme Swann had him caught by Anderson at slip. It was highly questionable decision and again highlighted India concerns with the DRS and its procedures. Given out by the on field umpire, the evidence was inconclusive either way so the original decision could not be over turned. Despite England's confidence - buoyed no doubt by so many missed opportunities in the first session - Dilshan looked to have been unlucky. Sangakkara left ten overs later as tea approached, Prior finally doing something right on this day of blunders. The elegant left hander struggled for all of his 86 deliveries but was determined to fight.

The last session was a dog fight, with Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera determined to resist and English tide which threatened flood at any moment. Scoring at barely more than two an over on a wicket which was spinning sharply and send occasional torpedos their way, their batting was of the most sublime. Shots reduced to the minimum and playing the ball later than usual, they did it the way the old timer managed on the goat tracks of old, sniffing out the ball and refusing to image Swann as the English saviour. Jayawardene has been magnificent in this too short series, as he was against Australia in the ODI series in February. Captaincy, which he resists and claims not to enjoy, sits admirably on his back like a long Gucci coat might on Elle Macpherson. No quarter given.

In the end, as it was yesterday, audacity was rewarded. Swann struck twice in the last twenty minutes. The first, a vicious off break, spun so much and so quickly that it followed Samaraweera as he backed away and away to avoid it, edging it from outside leg stump back onto the leg bail. The end was undeservedly ungainly for such a cultured and brave journey throughout the afternoon but no demerits to the batsmen against such superb bowling. Sri Lanka's second nightwatchmen in the same innings, Suraj Randiv, was no match for the rampaging Swann, who spun another off break from a foot outside off stump back onto middle through a bat and pad which seemed not to be on speaking terms.

A lead of 33 is not enough and unless Angelo Mathews can bat his captain to a hundred and add fifty or sixty himself, Sri Lanka are no chance. A lead of 130 plus might prove interesting, especially as England need to win to stay No1 and their batsmen have been losing the head games of late. Audacity needs reward though or it withers and Pietersen's hand yesterday deserves nothing but encouragement.