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.