- The Rose Bowl Test
By Richard Browne
Sri Lanka’s miserable tour of England continues in the autumnal gloom of a wet and windswept Rose Bowl, hosting its inaugural Test.
The build up to the Test has been all about Sangakkara’s reluctance to retain the captaincy on a temporary basis after Dilshan failed to recover from a finger injury and a little bit about Jayasuriya’s bizarre farewell appearance in the forthcoming ODI series. None of these topics suggest a happy dressing room.
Sangakkara has cut a strangely distant figure on this tour for one who is normally so obviously committed to the cause. A hectic schedule of world cup finals, resigning the captaincy on the grounds of a revulsion to political interference (he was quoted as saying “captaining Sri Lanka’s ages you very quickly”!) and then the IPL with all the chaos that charging around India entails has left him looking mentally drained.
In the field he has looked lacklustre. It has been unseasonably cold but that is no excuse for constantly having ones hands in their pockets in the field, none of the other fielders have. He has also looked heavy in the field and for one hard but pocketable chance in the gully during the first Test barely moved, confirmation of a tired body and brain for a man with normally lightening reflexes.
His batting woes in England have also continued and he now has an averaging languishing in the lower twenties and no centuries from nine Tests in the country. He was too young to play in the famous 1998 Test on a late summer Oval wicket that could have been lifted straight from Colombo. Instead he has had to play all his Tests on early season wickets that are a haven for seam and swing bowlers and outside of New Zealand unique in world cricket.
Four times in this series he has been caught behind of the seamers. Top order batting in England especially for left handers is about knowing where your off stump is and sadly for Sangakkara his judgement has gone seriously awry. Throughout the series he has played away from his body at balls that he should have left. His head position has also been at fault and he has constantly been falling over to the off side, meaning his balance his askew at the time of delivery.
His dismissal on Thursday (16) was a travesty for a batsman of his undoubted class. In terrible conditions for batting he played at a booming Anderson away swinger from around the wicket so wide he could barely reach it. His reaction to getting out from a normally calm character betrayed a man with pent up frustrations.
There is a sound argument that for a player who has always been in the heart of the action in the field either as keeper or skipper that a return to the gloves may refocus the mind. This would be harsh on Prassana Jayawardene who if not at the very top of his game in hostile conditions behind the timbers has manfully dealt with his rise in the order with a superb hundred and other gutsy and increasingly classy innings.
Sangakkara’s return to keeping would however balance a side that looks badly out of sync. In the 1990’s England had a superb keeper in Jack Russell and a superb keeping all rounder in Alec Stewart. A satisfactory answer was never found as Stewart went from opener to middle order keeper on selectoral whims, which helped no one. Sri Lanka appeared to have come up with a policy of playing the best keeper and are sticking with it, a rare example of clear thinking from the notoriously fickle bunch. As the years rolls by for Sangakkara maybe it is simply too much to be a top order batsmen and keeper, but he has gone record in saying that he does not mind.
A more sound argument is a proper rest from cricket especially after the pressure of captaining the side in the world cup. Would an early trip home and missing the ODI series in an attempt to refresh the batteries before the very beatable Australians arrive on Sri Lankan shores in August, be the best way forward in the long term?
Whatever happens Sangakkara has one innings left in England to amend a blot on one of the great records in international cricket of this or any other generation. In all probability his last innings in Test cricket in England will be a backs to the wall match saver and there can be no doubt there will be an iron like will from one world’s cricket most determined men to correct the only obstacle to his inclusion to the ranks at the very height of Mount Olympus.
Sri Lanka’s attack has sadly looked out of its depth and this is the real worry for island cricket. There has been no lack of effort but at no time even on the first morning at Lords have Sri Lanka looked like bowling England out twice.
The mediocrity of the attack has been further highlighted by the brilliance of Anderson and Tremlett in home conditions. They both have exemplary control of their lines and lengths and the ability to swing and seam ball. Anderson is as complete a bowler as any world cricket who can swing the ball both ways with no discernible change of action.
It has taken him years though to master his craft and a hefty stint of cricket overseas looks like the best solution for this young attack, to learn the tricks of the trade, that gets ever harder with more and more flat wickets and increasing workloads.
However the English press were scathing of England’s efforts during the world cup, where their bowlers struggled for penetration on the flat wickets of the subcontinent. In no other sport are conditions so diverse and influential on the game and for this we should be eternally thankful. Sadly though Sri Lanka are no nearer finding Vaas’ and Malinga’s replacements, but in Anderson at least, the pretenders have a benchmark of what is required.