So here we go again. It’s time for the most eagerly awaited test match since last week. Will the weather hold? Will Nick Compton get off the mark? Will Alastair Cook score the twenty runs he needs to reach 10,000? And will Sri Lanka make it past lunch on Sunday? All these questions, and plenty more, will be answered in the coming hours. It might even be remotely interesting.
The big news so far is that Chris Woakes has been preferred to Jake Ball (or so it seems). That means England will retain exactly the same balance that has served them well in recent times. We’ll just have to wait and see exactly where Woakes bats. My best guess is that he’ll come in at 8, with Bairstow and Ali moving up a spot. If Woakes bats at 6, Mo’s blood pressure might make it above 120 over 80 for the first time in history.
Although the outcome of this test is probably a foregone conclusion, the interest lies in seeing how individuals get on. Nick Compton and Alex Hales are still very much under the microscope. Although the latter got runs at Headingley, let’s not forget that both Adam Lyth and Sam Robson made their test centuries there. The pressure will become excruciating again if he fails twice in Durham. As for Compo, I suspect he’ll need to look good, as well as making a couple of scores, to silence the summer whines.
Personally I’m looking forward to seeing if Hales leaves the ball as well as he did at Leeds. Then again, it might’ve been a different story had Sri Lanka set their slip cordon differently and held their chances. The weather for the next few days is likely to be overcast, so there should be plenty of swing to contend with.
Talking of swing, all eyes will be on the aforementioned Woakes too. If he doesn’t take wickets at Durham, when conditions should be tailor made for him, it’s hard to see where he’ll make an impact.
Although I’ve had doubts about Woakes in the past, I think he’s worked hard at his game and deserves another chance to impress. After all, Glenn McGrath only took 13 wickets in his first 6 tests. Everyone needs time to settle in and prove themselves.
Please add you comments below as the game progresses. I’ll add my daily reports to this post as we go along too. Cheers.
It was a day of steady progress for England on Friday. The day could have been better – credit to Sri Lanka for pulling off some sensational catches – but ultimately I think we put enough runs on the board. And so we should have. Sri Lanka’s bowling was about as threatening as a four year old girl running around a Maypole.
The main talking point of the day – other than Cook’s surprise decision to bat first – was Alex Hales again. How do you think he looked? I thought he left the ball well, looked relatively solid in defence, and played some very handsome shots. In between these, however, there were still a few awkward moments. I’m not sure exactly what he’s proved, because we already knew he could play against county standard bowlers, but I guess these runs boost his confidence for sterner tests ahead. Whether he has the technical prowess to sustain a run in the team at test level remains to be seen.
The contrast between Hales and poor Nick Compton was stark. Everything’s going for one of them; the other looks like a tortured soul living in a world of pain. Once again Comp Dog looked tentative and his dismissal seemed to sum things up: a half-hearted pull shot that he top edged into the sky. Nobody was surprised when deep square leg pulled off a cracking catch. That’s how it goes when you can’t buy a run.
As for our other batsman, Alastair Cook edged one to second slip in a fashion we’ve seen many times before. It was a shame as he’d looked positive up to that point and looked certain to make the twenty runs he needed to reach 10,000.
Joe Root played superbly – he looks a class apart – but had a brain fart and lobbed a simple catch to short extra cover. He was absolutely furious with himself as he missed the opportunity for a cheap test century. Jonny B also looked good but got out just before he registered yet another half-century.
Moeen Ali also played a solid innings. He curbed his natural aggression and played a really sensible knock at an important time. Mo looks determined to make the most of his opportunity batting at seven. There were none of the loose swishes that have brought him so many runs, and a series of daft looking dismissals, in the past. I hope Woakes gives him some support this morning and we see an innings of real substance from the most stylish left-hander in the land.
In ordinary circumstances, a score of 310-6 would leave the game delicately balanced. Unfortunately however, Sri Lanka’s batting has looked so feeble that I suspect we’ve got enough runs on the board already. We shall see. Maybe one of their batters surprises us and Mathews makes a biggie? I doubt it but stranger things have happened.
The second day was all about two players, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes. The former batted sublimely. He knuckled down to begin with, as if he wanted to show everyone that he can play like a proper batsman after all, and then accelerated beautifully thereafter. He completely demoralised the hapless Sri Lankans, who were absolutely murdered by Mo’s free-flowing bat. Is there a better player to watch in the country? I can’t think of one.
Although the Lankans dropped Mo twice, once when he was building his innings and a second time when the damage had already been done, this innings was a superb achievement for a lower-order player under pressure. Without Moeen, England could have been bowled out for 300 or 350. Yes, it was only Sri Lanka, so perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into things, but it’s worth remembering that Mo played some extremely valuable cameos against Australia last summer too. He can be a little streaky at times, but he’s box office. in my opinion. He even bowled tidily at the end of the day.
As for Chris Woakes, what an uplifting performance. He batted solidly – he looks better than some specialist county batsmen – and was an absolute revaluation with the ball. We wanted to know if he could be effective in conditions that suited seam bowling, and now we have our answer.
What impressed he most about Woakes’ performance was his pace. Broad’s speeds were down a bit (as happens to Stuart occasionally) and Steve Finn also looked a bit out of sorts. Therefore Woakes was England’s quickest bowler on display. According to Joe Root, he’s also the quickest England bowler to face in the nets.
It will be interesting to see whether Woakes can bowl above 85mph consistently over a long period of time, or whether he’s just giving it everything at the moment to prove a point. Ryan Sidebottom was never particularly quick at county level, but seemed to find an extra gear for England. The problem was that he ended up bowling himself into the ground on some occasions and picked up quite a few niggles. We’ll see what happens to Woakes.
I’ll sign off by making a quick, and pretty damning, observation about Sri Lanka. They were absolutely appalling yesterday and looked nothing like an international team. The wheels really came off. The bowling was completely toothless, the fielding an absolute embarrassment, and Mathews’ captaincy made Alastair Cook circa 2013 look like bloody Mike Brearley.
Are Sri Lanka the worst test team to tour England for a decade? I’m beginning to think they are. I really can’t think of a team with a weaker pace attack and a more fragile batting order. It’s a real shame and I feel for them. Touring England is a tough brief for any rebuilding side. Touring England up north, at the beginning of the summer, is even tougher. This series has been a complete mismatch.
So Sri Lanka finally decided to show up. Thank heavens for that. Our bowlers finally had to put a shift in and didn’t have things all their own way. Congrats to the likes of Silva, Mathews and Chandimal for prolonging the game into the fourth day. Yes, it’s much easier to score runs when the game is effectively up, and there’s very little pressure, but at least they showed some pride.
Yesterday I speculated whether Sri Lanka were worst team to tour England in a decade. I still don’t think they’re particularly good, but at least I’m a little more optimistic about their future. Silva saw off the new ball and looks like a compact and organised opener, Mathews showed his undoubted class, and Chandimal finally played some of his trademark shots. Let’s not forget that Mendis has shown promise on this tour and Thirimanne can stick around too. Perhaps things aren’t looking completely bleak after all.
As for England, we finally started to learn a few things – or perhaps I should say ‘reminded’ of a few things. Nobody has ever claimed that we’re the finished article, and yesterday proved yet again that we’re not. Although we have two fine opening bowlers, the attack still lacks genuine pace and a world class spinner. Consequently we sometimes struggle when the pitch is flat and batsmen get their heads down – just like most teams in the world in fact.
Although Steve Finn’s lack of rhythm has attracted the most attention, I was actually most disappointed by Stuart Broad’s pace. When Broady’s tail is up, he consistently bowls in the high 80s. Yesterday his average was just 82. It reminded me of that Oval test in 2012 when the South Africans racked up 637-2. Broad simply isn’t effective when he’s bowling medium pace. Is he injured?
Finn himself was painful to watch. His action is terrible, his confidence looks shot, and the mental demons have resurfaced. We all know that Finn is a real handful when he’s bowling well, but he exasperates me at times. I was really excited when he emerged on the scene as a genuine 90mph bowler, but he’s nowhere the near the world-class operator I hoped he’d become.
Don’t get me wrong, Finn is still a very useful bowler. Cricketers are human and it’s unrealistic to expect them to perform brilliantly every time. What frustrates me so much about Finn is that his ceiling is so high. When he’s on song his absolutely awesome. But when things are going badly for him – and you can tell he’s thinking about things far too much – his bowling is a sorry sight. England’s management will be tempted to pick Jake Ball ahead of him at Lord’s.
It will be interesting to see if Sri Lanka can make England bat again on Monday morning. I guess much will depend on the atmospheric conditions. If it’s overcast, I expect Jimmy Anderson to clean up the tail pretty quickly. If not, and Sri Lanka set England a small total to chase, Alastair Cook might reach his 10,000 run landmark in front of two men and a spaniel. I’m sure he’d much rather do at Lord’s with a full house and the MCC members there to congratulate him.
Victory is finally ours. It was a bit of an anticlimax in the end though. It was rather sad to see Sri Lanka pile on the runs again during the morning session. With the exception of Jimmy Anderson, who bowled beautifully, our other bowlers looked toothless on what turned into a very flat pitch. England just seemed to run out of ideas. It was a bit depressing.
The big talking point for me was the performance of Jonny Bairstow behind the stumps. Had he caught Chandimal in the first hour it would have been a completely different story. Instead he made a right hash of a regulation chance and Sri Lanka were temporarily off the hook.
It was a terrible drop. His foot placement looked wrong, and his weight was too far to the off-side; therefore when the ball took the inside edge he was unable to move back ever so slightly to his left to bag the catch. It looked very amateurish. Poor Jonny’s batting has come on leaps and bounds but his keeping still looks dodgy. He missed a difficult, but entirely gettable, stumping on day 3 too. The chorus calling for England to select the best pure keeper in county cricket is only getting louder.
When England finally wrapped up the innings, Sri Lanka’s lead had extended to 78. We knocked off the runs easily as expected. After all, the pitch had few demons by this stage. Hales was dismissed cheaply but Cook and Compton saw England home without many alarms. The latter even looked quite composed.
So England head to Lord’s with a 2-0 lead. It’s what everyone expected but I don’t think many predicted that Sri Lanka’s batting would improve so dramatically in the second innings. Their batsmen seem to be batting further across to the off-side, so they’re finding it easier to leave the ball. When England bowl straighter to target the stumps, they picked us off on the leg side. It’s not a particularly revolutionary way to play the swinging ball but it’s proving effective for now. Hats off to Graham Ford I guess.
I should quickly mention that Alastair Cook finally reached his landmark of 10,000 test runs during England’s mini-chase. Predictably there was much rejoicing. I’ll be writing about Cook’s fine achievement later today (stay tuned for that) but I think I can summarise it thus: whatever one thinks of Cook, and no matter how much critics point to weaknesses, he’s been a real stalwart for England over the years. To score the amount of runs he has, and play for one’s country for over a decade, takes amazing resolve, longevity, fitness and talent too. Congratulations.