Well England did what they needed to do in the end, however they didn’t make things easy for themselves with the way they performed in the field today. Indeed despite Cook and Anderson hitting the headlines for achieving respective landmarks both with the bat and with the ball, the last two days seems to have dredged up more questions than delivered answers around the team make up.
Let’s make no bones about it, they bowled pretty horribly this morning albeit on a pitch that was not conducive to fast bowling. Anderson aside, England looked pretty toothless against stubborn resistance from Chandimal and Herath with Finn and in particular Moeen looking pretty anonymous with the ball. Much as been written about Steven Finn in the press over the last couple of days and it is clear that he is struggling with his action as he has been all season (though I’m not sure I can agree with Mike Selvey’s tweets trying to clear any arguments that David Saker might have been responsible for this.) As I mentioned a few days ago, Finn is the ultimate confidence player and be it through injury or through poor form, his confidence looks pretty shot at the moment. I think he desperately needs some overs with the ball in the county championship when the white ball season kicks off and for that reason, I would leave him out of the one dayers. George Dobell’s piece on Finn is definitely worth a read and a far more eloquent appraisal of the situation that I can muster – http://www.espncricinfo.com/england-v-sri-lanka-2016/content/story/1021609.html
The same thing can be applied to Moeen, who today was going for 5 an over on a pitch that was starting to take some proper spin. We all knew that Moeen was originally a batsman who also offered us a part time spin option; however there had been performances that also gave us hope that he could perform the task of being England’s main spinner one day. Whether it’s a confidence thing or an ability thing, Moeen’s limitations were shown for all to see in the Pakistan Test series in the UAE and I’m not sure he has recovered any semblance of confidence since that series. I think today clearly shows that England can’t rely on Moeen bowling teams out in the fourth innings of Test Matches at the moment. A true international class spin bowler is still very much on England’s wish list, unfortunately there still aren’t many queuing up on the horizon.
As much as England’s bowlers bowled poorly this morning and they definitely did, our predicament was not helped by Cook the captain, who was happy to let proceedings drift until we finally managed to dig the opposition out. This has been on my bugbears with Cook’s captaincy since he took on the role, that when Plan A and sometimes Plan B don’t work, then there is nothing left in the captaincy tank (MS Dhoni was another captain who seemed to freeze when the going got tough). Why not change the field around, bring on a part-time bowler or ask the bowlers to change the angle of the attack? Something, anything to try and prise a wicket out, but no we just seemed to plod on doing the same thing in the hope that Jimmy Anderson could find a bit of magic to eventually pick up a wicket. It is also right to highlight that Bairstow dropped a fairly regulation chance to get rid of Chandimal during the morning. This is always going to be the problem when you want a batsman who keeps wicket, rather than a wicketkeeper who can bat in your team. Bairstow did not have a good day with the gloves routinely spilling deliveries or struggling to take them cleanly. I do think his keeping on the whole has improved since the winter, but it is clear that he is very much a work in progress still and the wicketkeeper debate looks set to rumble on over the summer. Let’s just hope he has got his poor day out of his system for the rest of the summer.
Though, I have been critical of England’s bowling and captaincy today, this should not take away anything from the application of the Sri Lankan batsmen. Herath played a fighting, nuggetty innings for his team (though quite what Chandimal must have thought when he started to trying to reverse sweep when he was stuck on 98 not out, must be something else) and of course it was a classy hundred from Chandimal who looked an assured and classy batsman. Sri Lanka desperately need Matthews and Chandimal to lead from the front in what is a very inexperienced top order, but the signs today were good that Chandimal has the ability and temperament to score runs regularly at this level.
A final note has to go to Cook the batsman. It would be totally churlish of me not to congratulate him on reaching a memorable landmark. Cook without doubt is a fine international player and deserves praise for his longevity and ability to squeeze out the volume of runs that he has. Is he a world-class player? I would suggest his stats show that he isn’t quite in the same league as the Sangakkara’s, Tendulkar’s, Waugh’s and Dravid’s of this world, who were all world class, but that shouldn’t take anything away from the fact that he has been a fine opener for England in years gone past. Let’s now hope that with this landmark burden removed from his shoulders, that he can find some form again and score the runs that this England team needs him to do.