Unless the team batting first has an absolute horror then the first day invariably leaves the spectator unsure of where the match is going, even more so if a session is lost to the weather. 171-5 is not a great score, that’s certain, but as ever with Headingley the context of the overhead conditions and the pitch may mean it is better than it first appears. Equally however, the movement off the seam and in the air was anything but prodigious – enough to keep the bowlers interested and the batsmen wary, but no minefield. Therefore conclusions are entirely impossible to draw except to say that both teams will probably be fairly content with their work overall. Sri Lanka have dismissed half the side and will hope to wrap up the rest reasonably quickly, while England have recovered well from the parlous position of 83-5.
That they did so was down to one player batting against type and another who is finding Test cricket rather easy at the moment – with the bat anyway. Alex Hales found himself in the probably unfamiliar position of having to hold the innings together, and as a result batted cautiously throughout. Without his knock England would have been in dire straits. And yet it is to be hoped that Hales doesn’t see this as his role in future, for there are much better defensive openers in the game than him, and in the South African series he appeared to be struggling to try and play a game different from that at which he excels. He does have technical limitations, but so does David Warner, and it isn’t a problem there because his role is to be the dasher. When in, such players are devastating, but they can be knocked over cheaply by quality bowling. Today Hales had little choice and deserves immense credit for battling his way through, but it would be a waste of what he is capable of if that is to be how England see him batting, for it is hard to see how he can succeed over the longer term. But as England’s David Warner, well it might still be a long shot to be as effective, but it’s probably his best chance. Today however, it was just right.
Jonny Bairstow is either in the form of his life or has thoroughly found his feet at the highest level, and perhaps something of both. Middle order players who can turn the tide are invaluable, and England have a couple in the shape of him and Ben Stokes. Ah yes, Ben Stokes. It didn’t take long for the knives to come out concerning a poor shot. As needs repeating time and time again, Stokes plays this way. You cannot stand and cheer if the ball he was out to had gone just out of reach of the fielder and sped away for four – same shot, different outcome. When Stokes is batting well, he chances his arm and gets away with it, the margins are that narrow, and it is as it always was, two sides of the same coin. The glory of run a ball double centuries come with the disappointment of poor shots for not very many, it really cannot be something people have both ways. His overall performance is the key, because there will be glorious highs and abject lows.
Naturally, the pre-match build up and the rain breaks were dominated by the whole story around Alastair Cook approaching 10,000 Test runs. Sky went as preposterously over the top as they always seem to with all things Cook, offering an interview that was about as incisive as a This Morning chit chat, with unquestioned adoration of the Great Man throughout. Cook did say that he just wanted the whole thing over with, and that would be quite understandable, for the use of him as an icon by broadcaster, media and the ECB is not his fault. They have successfully turned what is undoubtedly going to be a fine achievement into something that has created serious irritation at the nature of the idolatry. It’s quite an achievement, and it is to be strongly suspected that Cook is uncomfortable with the circus. It’s a great pity, for achievements should be celebrated, instead they are having to be qualified because of the excessive claims. Cook will get to 10,000 and he will and should be extremely proud of himself for it. He’s been a fine player with power to add.
For Sri Lanka the man of the day was clearly Dasun Shanaka, who received his first Test cap before play began, and then came on as the fifth bowler just before lunch and promptly removed Cook, Compton and Root in the space of eight balls. As debut victims go, that’s not bad at all. He lacks pace, and bowls the kind of line and length that should have county coaches purring, and the ECB grinding their teeth having so recently announced the death of such bowling in the English game. Headingley has often rewarded bowlers of this nature, being the only ground where (back in the days they actually got more than the occasional Test) the phrase “horses for courses” would routinely make an appearance pre-selection.
One final thing to note, in two sessions of play only 53 overs were bowled. It is unlikely this would have speeded up in the final session, and quite clearly the ICC no longer care, for fines for slow over rates appear to be a thing of the past, let alone suspensions. It is of course one day, and one curtailed day at that. But the pattern has been in place for quite some time.
My flight tomorrow is at 16:05 from Heathrow, so that is it from me for this Test and this series, though I daresay something will annoy me enough to post over the next month. I’ll probably add some travel observations to my travel blog (I’ve already put up an intro for this trip – and if you’re interested in Myanmar, there’s plenty there from the last one), which is http://www.thelegglance.wordpress.com if you feel so inclined to say hello, otherwise, back in mid June!
Enjoy the rest of the Test – oh and day two comments below.