By Richard Browne
Breaking things seem all the rage during this England VS Sri Lanka Test series.
English keeper Matt Prior has been breaking windows while Lankan captain Tillekaratne Dilshan has fractured his thumb. The ECB spin machine has been on red alert with ever-changing stories about how a window came to be smashed in the Lords pavilion on the final afternoon. Whatever the truth is the, England captain had a face like thunder when facing the press about the incident.
Prior has a reputation as a man ready to sacrifice his wicket if it is in the needs of his team. Was his bat throwing a boiling over of pent up frustration at the snail-like pace of England’s batting on the morning of the final day of the Lords Test?
England coach Andy Flower was recently quoted as saying “Not everyone is best friends in the changing room, but as long as the respect for each other is there I don’t care.” Prior’s performance puts this statement into a new light.
Prior’s frustration could also be linked to the wayward bowling by his bowlers which put 25 byes against his name in the first innings to go along with the eight wides. Statistics are of course a vital benchmark in judging players, but for keepers statistics can be damning.
With the exception of one fumble down the leg side, Prior was blameless for the rest of the byes. Did Prior have a worse game than Prassana Jayawardene who only gave away three byes? No he didn’t, but the history books will tell a different story and highlights the plight of a keeper.
How do you judge a keepers standing in the game on statistics alone? Over the course of a ten year career batting and bowling statistics will naturally bring the cream to the top. A near faultless keeper however can stand behind a mundane attack, drop next to no catches, but be considerably lower down the list in terms of dismissals than a more average keeper behind a stronger attack who makes more errors.
Jayawardene, arguably the best keeper in the world at the moment, looks like spending the next few years standing behind a relatively toothless attack and to add to his woes a lot of his cricket will be played on the dead wickets of the subcontinent. Nicks will be few and far between. Will history view Haddin of Australia who plays home cricket on bouncy tracks conducive to behind the wicket edges, as a better keeper than Jaywardene who will in all probability have a lower dismissals per game ratio than the Australian?
Not only did the England doctor have to attend to a cut ankle from Prior’s handiwork, but he was also on call on Saturday afternoon as a dozing MCC member was thumped in the chest by a vicious Dilshan six. Watching Test cricket in England is a million miles away from the noise and commotion of a subcontinent ODI and it is something of a mystery that more damage has not been done to sleeping spectators. The gentleman recovered.
Sadly it looks like Dilshan will not. The noises coming from The Sri Lankan dressing groom are bordering on the positive regarding Dilshan’s availability for next Thursday’s final Test, but history shows that finger fractures take at least two weeks to heel and that is time the Sri Lankan skipper does not have.
It would be a travesty if Dilshan was to miss the final Test. The start of his reign has been a personal success. His 193 at Lords was a brutal display of batting and a testament to the courage of the man as he battled on after taking two blows to his thumb from the giant in whites Chris Tremlett. England went after Dilshan’s body echoing the thoughts of the equally tall West Indian attack of the 1980’s that is: if you break the captain’s spirit the team will follow.
Dilshan showed admirable self restraint and judicious judgement in leaving or ducking the bodyline attack. After the Cardiff collapse calamities, if Dilshan had fallen early with his team facing a huge first innings total the results could have been very different.
There was a spring in the step at lords that was missing at Cardiff and Dilshan must take some credit for this. A toothless, if unstinting, attack on a good batting strip against an in-form batting side is a baptism of fire for any new skipper and Dilshan got most things right.
A notable failure was his attack’s insistence of bowling to Prior’s strength outside off stump during his fist innings century, a knock that took the game away from Sri Lanka. Strengths can of course be weakness and many an attack has used just such tactics against Dilshan himself, but his refusal to get his bowlers to tighten their line and to adjust the field accordingly hinted at a man who is not quite thinking for himself at all times out on the paddock.