Thursday, 29 March 2012

ENGLAND LEFT FRUSTRATED BY COSTLY ERRORS

Sri Lanka 318 (M Jayawardene 180, Anderson 5-72) and 214 (P Jayawardene 61*, Swann 6-82) beat England 193 (Bell 52, Herath 6-74) and 264 (Trott 112, Herath 6-97, Randiv 4-74) by 75 runs

Jonathan Trott's 7th Test century was in vain
I concluded my last blog saying the Flower/Strauss combination would have to come up with something to instil a determination to succeed within the England batting line up ready for their tour of Sri Lanka.  Unfortunately, whatever talks they may have had, whatever extra practice sessions they may have had and whatever incentives they may have had put before them have not worked.  Costly errors when England were seemingly in control of the game saw to their downfall, losing by 75 runs to a Sri Lankan side who have not won a home Test since Muttiah Murilatharan retired in 2010.

Sri Lanka captain, Mahela Jayawardene, won the toss and elected to bat on a surface that looked like it would offer the spinners much purchase in the last innings.  He could not, however, have expected his side to lose three quick wickets in the opening four overs.  Kumar Sangakkara, still one of the best batsmen in the world, was caught behind off James Anderson first ball to leave England smelling blood.  Jayawardene went about correcting the damage and amassed a huge 180, the only Sri Lankan to make a score of note.  He was aided, however, by four dropped catches, two from Anderson and two comical ones from fielding sensation, Monty Panesar.  The home side were eventually bowled out for 318, a score which would have frustrated Strauss’s side immensely.

More frustrations were to follow though, as England’s reply was simply pathetic.  They were dismissed for 193 inside 47 overs.  Ian Bell made a timely return to form with 52 but could not take the attack to the Sri Lankans as much as he would have liked.  England showed the familiar ability to fail to post a formidable first innings lead.  Does it count as a collapse if they were rubbish right from the start?

Trailing by 125 runs, England’s bowlers had their work cut out to repair the damage caused by their willy nilly batting.  However, just as the bowling unit was good when needed against Pakistan, they were equally good here… to start with.  With the score at 127-8 and the lead at 252, if England had polished off the remaining two wickets, they would have had a real chance in winning the game.  But, England never make these things easy.  Even when they take their catches, Stuart Broad finds another way to throw a spanner into the works by bowling no-balls to ensure the Sri Lankan batsmen stay in.  Sri Lanka added another 87 runs for the last two wickets, with the catch off the no-ball allowing Prasanna Jayawardene to make 61* setting England 340 - a score never achieved at Galle - to win.

England’s final innings started nervously.  England’s recent run machine, Alastair Cook departed for 27 and Strauss flayed an awful hoik to midwicket for 14.  Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen survived it through to stumps on Day 3 at 111-2.  Pietersen though, was caught early on the next day leaving Trott and Bell to pursue the target.  Both looked good until what I think was a dreadful decision was made by umpire Rod Tucker.  The Aussie gave Bell out LBW whilst sweeping, with the impact at least eight feet down the track.  With the ball pitching on off stump and turning away from Bell, I cannot understand how he could have been certain that was going to hit the stumps and I believe he and Hawkeye got that one wrong.

England’s luck did improve slightly though when Matt Prior and Trott steadied the ship and looked on course to see the visitors home.  Prior can consider himself incredibly unlucky, however, when on 41 he slapped a sweep straight at Thirimanne at short leg who juggled it and managed to cling on.  England’s last real hopes were pinned on Trott (I have no faith in debutant Samit Patel), who finally passed his century off 240 balls - a proper Test ton.  The South African born number three eventually lost his wicket and England fans gave up hope, when  he flicked a ball straight to Dilshan at leg slip who took a sharp catch.  England’s tail did not then put up a fight with none of the last five making double figures.  When last man Panesar was caught in the slips first ball it sparked huge celebrations among the Sri Lankan players and fans alike.

It was a good win for Sri Lanka, no doubt, but England will rue four dropped catches, a wicket off a no-ball and a poor first innings batting display.  They now must win in Colombo, not only to salvage a series draw, but also their position as number one Test team in the ICC world rankings.