The reaction of the England balcony to the day’s last few overs spoke volumes.
As Broad and Ballance upped the ante with a flurry of boundaries – and the latter reached his century – Alastair Cook led his players in a display of fist-pumping, arm-raising, physically-demonstrative emotion.
It revealed the extent of Cook’s desperate to win a cricket match. It laid bare the depths of his frustration, despair, humiliation and emasculation.
The Broad and Ballance show shone a rare shaft of light into the bleak world the England skipper has inhabited since November. But maybe he’d have been wiser to remain more poker-faced.
What we were witnessing was felicitous and purposeful shot-making, for sure, but under zero pressure, with a big lead, in a home test against Sri Lanka. Cook was hollering away as if on the brink of regaining the Ashes.
Perhaps he shouldn’t give his opposite numbers so vivid a glimpse into his private hell. Since the Brisbane test, Cook’s life has been a misery – to a fair extent, deservedly – and it’s a misery (to misquote Churchill) out of which he should now be put.
He was anointed a future captain very early in his test career – remember him being sent for that chat with Mike Brearley? – despite having shown no particular aptitude or desire for the job whatsoever.
Cook was rather like a Dalai Lama, who is told as a small child he’s the chosen one, and has to go along with it whether he likes it or not.
Twenty tests in, and Cook demonstrates not an iota more ability or desire for the role than he ever did in the first place. He looks like he’s hating every minute of it. Everyone knows he’s running out of time; he knows we know, and you can see it in his eyes.
Only Cook’s mother would try to deny the plainest fact of all: the captaincy is ruining his batting.
Think about his dismissals in this match. Cook looked distracted and out of kilter. The skipper’s role has stripped his batting of the good bits – simplicity and concentration – and left only his leaden footwork and porous technique.
What a contrasting figure he strikes from the impishly carefree Gary Ballance, whose innocence and joie de vivre remind one of better times. He played with all the insouciance and freshness of a man who’s never let a stockbroker and a departing coach walk all over him for the sake of an easy life.
Ballance was excellent, and no doubt he will win widespread plaudits for reaching his century with a six. I love that he did that. It testified to his poise, confidence and vision. The team sorely need that kind of chutzpah.
However, I seem to remember that another player, who did quite well for England but doesn’t play any more, used to get a lot of criticism for trying to get to a hundred with a big shot. Well, he came from southern Africa so he must have been an outsider who didn’t show enough of Cook’s “Englishness”. Erm…
England’s top-order mini-collapse has actually improved the chances of getting a win, but things might have been easier if they hadn’t deployed such banal tactics in the attempt to close out the Sri Lankan tail. This daft approach has been going on for years, even during the 2010-11 Ashes. Why can’t the bowlers – like Eranga did for the visitors with success – just aim at the stumps?