Stumps: England 287-2. Sri Lanka 400.
The two big talking points seemed to be (a) did Cook and Trott bat too slowly? And (b), why have so few people turned up to watch?
Let’s start with the run-rate. On the various discussion platforms yesterday, there was extensive chuntering about our batsmen’s cautious approach. These Sri Lankan bowlers aren’t up to much, so the thinking went, and we’ve lost so much time to rain – surely they should get a move on?
This attitude strikes me, as an England supporter, as rather ungrateful. Look at the scoreboard. The pair began at 47-2, with England trailing by 353. By stumps they’d added 240 for no further loss, and put us in a virtually inpregnable position. How many times in the last thirty years would we have bitten the arms of any batsmen who could offer such resolve and steadfastness. Would you rather we were 287-2, or 350-7?
In Australia our batting revolved around the Cook-Trott axis, and it all worked out pretty well, to put it mildly. For me, Trott in particular is worth his weight in gold. Being slightly too young to have witnessed Geoffrey Boycott, Trott is the first England player I’ve ever known to have such a greedy appetite for runs – an almost insane craving for huge centuries. He may not rapidly take the game away from the opposition, but eventually he grinds bowlers into the dust. His ludicrous patience, his single-minded obstinacy, breaks bowlers’ hearts, because he makes them believe they will never get him out. How many other England players of the last thirty years could you say that about? He is the closest thing to a Dravid or Kallis we’ve ever had, at least in recent generations. And his statistics are now looking astonishing. If Trott is kidnapped by aliens this morning, and never plays test cricket again, he would finish his career with an average of 66.
Meanwhile, the Sky Sports team were yesterday pondering the lacklustre spectator showing at Cardiff. Why are fans staying away, they asked, when Sri Lanka are such an attractive cricketing nation?
I’d argue that they miss the point, for similar reasons to those we discussed a few days ago. For England followers, a day at the cricket is a once-a-year-only treat, because it’s so expensive. When you’re deciding which day to attend, why would you choose a test match in May, when the weather is so unreliable, instead of waiting till July or August? And although the Lankans are a decent side, they’re less illustrious than India, whose visit here later in the season is more important, in terms of England’s long-term ambitions.
Most people don’t watch live cricket to admire the players’ craft and skill – both of which are much easier appreciated by watching on television. Generally, we go to enjoy the atmosphere, commune with fellow fans, cheer on the side, and hopefully revel in a significant display of our team’s superiority. The motives are partisan and patriotic. And those emotions are much more dominant when we’re facing an arch-rival – Australia or South Africa; opponents who get our tribal juices flowing. Sri Lanka and especially India are very fine teams, but for fans the pleasure in defeating them is far less visceral. The Aussies and Saffers inspire lager-fuelled songs, chants, jeers and mickey-taking – the Asian teams do not. None of which is a reflection on their cricketing strength, but on tradition and heritage. Even if Australia were an extremely poor side, the Ashes tests would still be sell-outs, and we’d savour every moment. To use a football comparison, imagine the difference in atmosphere between England v Germany, and England v Spain.
So where’s this match heading? Rain has already delayed the start of Sunday’s play, which makes a draw increasingly likely, unless scoreboard pressure can somehow induce a Sri Lankan collapse. But we only have three bowlers, and now the debate will begin over who should replace Anderson at Lord’s. We’d be interested to hear your view. It looks like Finn has already got the nod, but should Onions be in the mix too?