After almost a five month break for England’s red ball team, there’s nothing like good Test cricket. And, to be clear, this match has not been an example of good Test cricket so far. Loose bowling competing with worse batting has meant that this game seems unlikely to last more than three days, let alone five.
Sri Lanka won the toss in the morning (4am to be precise. Who starts a cricket game at 4am??), which is usually very important in Sri Lanka. In the last 18 Test matches in they have hosted, 14 have been won by the team who chose to bat first. That includes the 3-0 series win by England two years ago.
Sri Lanka were missing captain Dimuth Karunaratne to a hairline fracture and bowler Suranga Lakmal with a hamstring injury, but otherwise were able to field a full-strength team with three spinners. England had to do without Moeen Ali due to the spinner still being isolated with coronavirus and opted for two spinners and three seamers.
The theme of Sri Lanka’s innings was atrocious batting. You would expect an international team to be confident and reassured in home conditions, but they batted like… Well like England typically have done in spinning conditions. Trying to smash balls from well outside the off stump, playing a large number of slog sweeps and reverse sweeps, and generally having no control or consistency whatsoever. Broad started things moving with a few early wickets whilst Bess cleaned up the tail and claimed a five-fer, but it’s difficult to give England’s bowlers or fielders much credit on a day when their opponents seemed very happy to fall on their own swords.
England tried to imitate Sri Lanka’s comedy wickets with Zak Crawley doing his best to run himself out early on, but the host’s fielding was as bad as their batting and they failed to convert their chance. The openers didn’t last too much longer though, with both Sibley and Crawley falling in quick succession. Crawley’s wicket in particular was poor, going down the pitch before mis-hitting a lofted drive to mid-off. His previous Test innings was 267 against Pakistan though, so I’m prepared to cut him some slack on this one.
From that point on, with Bairstow and Root at the crease, the game was actually pretty good. Solid, cautious test batting from England’s batsmen and patient, probing bowling from Sri Lanka. Young left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya in particular was very useful for the hosts, taking the wickets for both openers and drawing a few edges which didn’t go to hand. Whilst Dom Bess was wildly fortunate to take five wickets, Embuldeniya was arguably as unlucky not to take more than two. Root and Bairstow were both a lot more cautious than Sri Lanka were in their first innings, keeping shots along the ground. The captain made 66* whilst Bairstow finished the day on 47*. Jonny’s success might cause a headache for the team if they intend to bring Rory Burns back into the team against India. One of Sibley, Crawley, or Burns will have to miss out, if he stays in the team. England finished the day just 8 runs behind and with 8 wickets in hand. It’s hard to imagine how the day could have gone any better for them after they lost the toss.
As a bit of comedy relief, BBC’s Test Match Special aired an interview during Lunch of Australia’s coach Justin Langer by Alison Mitchell. There’s a clip of it on Twitter here. It really is an incredible mixture of delusion, arrogance, stupidity and outright lies. To be clear, the incidents in question (Tim Paine swearing at the umpire and Steve Smith scratching at the crease whilst fielding) are fairly minor. Both were caught on camera (by their own broadcaster, no less) and both are undeniably against the laws of the game, but the fact that Langer feels the need to vociferously defend either by making the argument that both Smith and Paine are wonderful and virtuous people is both unnecessary and hilarious. He also makes the claim that Tim Paine is “the best wicketkeeper in the world” and that he hopes Paine will still be captain next year in the Ashes. As an England fan, I hope that is what he genuinely believes.
All in all, a good start to the new year for England.
As always, feel free to comment about the game or anything else below.
There’s nothing like a great day at Test cricket, and this was nothing like a great day at Test cricket!
Langer ………that bloke who dislodged a bail when crossing over in the field, in a Test v Pakistan?
Well qualified to call it on fair play and gamesmanship.
What is it with Aussie’s that about 30% of them become utter caaaaaaants when they put on cricket whites?
Only 30%? You’re being very generous.
Easy, pardner. I may well be trying to be generous, but it is an affliction, isn’t it?
This column has provided some frightening examples of how lower grade cricket is akin to wholesale hooliganism, but for it not to be eradicated as they go up through the grades is a worrying tell on the culture.
I love how they play the victim and say “Oh, we copped so much abuse last time in England”, as
if that was for no reason, and not because they were caught redhanded over Sandpapergate and just couldn’t take it.
Take Broad and his not walking – he knew what he’d done, played it “the Aussie way, and let the Ump make his decision”, then he faced up to the abuse and wore it. These pussies…………. bleating like utter dishonest wimps ……………… crying and saying they’d let everyone down…… Aussie manhood, eh….. shrivelled, whingeing and pathetic.
I’ll get off the fence now, shall I?
Spirit of cricket? As usual, you need a New Zealander.
Yepp, fair does.
I liked the way the Kiwis played against Pakistan. OK, Palistan are obviously on a charm offensive, so as to not jeopardise their getting real home series again, but Kane and co played it hard and fair.
That big blonde feller reminds me of Tremlett………., except he seems to stay fit and takes more wickets.
Ah, Langer…the “it’s not who I am” logical fallacy.
Re the SL test: I think it’s pretty harsh to say that SL were only two picks short of a full-strength team. I suspect they wouldn’t have picked a sole seamer who only made his debut in their last test if either Rajitha or Kumara had been fit, Thirimanne wouldn’t (maybe shouldn’t–you never know with the SL selectors and Thirimanne!) have stood a chance if Oshada Fernando had been fit, and I suspect Mendis’s place would have looked quite dicey if de Silva had been fit. Certainly someone’s would have been–I would think de Silva is one of the first few names on the team sheet at the moment.
Even with three batsmen out, that top order was a shocking (and way too conservative) piece of selection. They could have picked the top-order player they picked to make his debut in the middle order all of….one test ago. Or the young prospect, currently opening, who’s made 13 centuries in his first 33 games and averages 67 in f-c cricket. Or, given Thirimanne’s record and Mendis’s recent record, both!
PS BTL pedant alert: Embuldeniya isn’t an off-spinner…unless you’re being deliberately sinister…:-)
Nope, that was an honest mistake. It’s weird, but I often make that mistake. I look at a ‘left arm orthodox’ spinner and just see offspin.
Very impressive first test innings from Dan Lawrence. He started as if he’d been playing tests for years. Even the very first ball he faced showed a lot of confidence, backing away and punching through the covers. I know it’s far too early to make comparisons, but it did remind me of watching David Gower’s first ball in test cricket against Pakistan which he pulled for four.
Yep. Not to put any pressure on the lad, but it’s like watching a right-handed Brian Lara crossed with Viv Richards.
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Indeed far too early.
Would not be surprised if the average county attack was actually more testing than this lot of Sri Lankans – also helps of course that you come in when your side is already massively ahead in the game.
Sterner tests wait for Lawrence.
Just like David Gower’s debut then. 😉
“Sri Lanka won the toss in the morning (4am to be precise. Who starts a cricket game at 4am??)”
6 pm my time. It’s the absolutely best time to start a match!
I’ve always thought watching a test match (on the other side of the world) in the early hours of the morning is one of life’s great joys.
The West Indies have the right idea: Start around 2pm and play until 9pm.