Sri Lanka v England: Reasons to be cheerful despite defeat

There was much to enjoy during the first Test in Sri Lanka despite England’s defeat, says All Out Cricket magazine's Phil Walker

By All Out Cricket
andrew strauss
England were beaten by 75 runs in the opening Test against Sri Lanka Photo: The Sport Review

andrew strauss

I know, I know. England have lost again, four in a row, we’re rubbish, the batsmen can’t play spin, the captain needs runs, the sun’s too hot, the fort’s too tall, the 50p tax rate’s been cut, there are no jobs, Englebert’s not up to it, this country’s going to the Isle of Dogs in a handcart sponsored by Crufts… Oh come on!

I get it. It’s unpatriotic to pull oneself out of a post-defeat funk so quickly, without recourse to a good whinge and a nice bracing sulk. One is missing out by not wallowing in the exquisite misery of defeat, this being one of the finest life-giving consolations in all of sport.

But frankly I can’t be bothered. Not when the spectacle’s as rich and enticing as that. When for four days a pair of teams haggle for supremacy on a pitch that’s alien to one side and customised for the other, but where the imbalance is levelled out by the presence on the grassy banks beneath the old fort of cricket’s collective heartbeat beerily cheering for England, St George and, inadvertently, the five-day Test match.

The five-dayer. What a freak of nature. Even as we despair over the betrayal of the game hatched by the two-Test ‘series’, it’s impossible to hide a smirk at the old dame’s knack for ridiculing those who make such boneheaded decisions.

Last autumn we had a pair of two-Test series – Australia versus South Africa and Australia against New Zealand. And of course, because this is what happens when you mess around with God’s game, after two matches both scores stood at one-each! No decider, no resolution, just a rather feeble anti-climax. It’s like your evil big brother ripping out the final pages of an engrossing book and eating them right in front of you.

So England must be stick-ons to win next week at Colombo. Test cricket demands it. Whether it will console them after such a chastening winter is a moot point. There will be an enormous sense of frustration that a winter that reads 4-0 could so easily have been 2-2 if the final-day collapses at Abu Dhabi and here at Galle had just been staved off for one more session. It’s tough at the top, and now they need to win next week to stay there.

If anything, this thrilling game at Galle deserved a closer arse-nipping finish than Sri Lanka’s eventual 75-run win suggests. In the final analysis, the victory margin will look quite comfortable, when the truth is that halfway through the fourth day England were winning it. At that stage, with Jonathan Trott digging for Mordor and Matt Prior showing the class of a natural Test No.6, their highest ever chase to win a Test match looked not just on, but likely.

It was apt that the game should swing on a moment of brilliance from Sri Lanka’s freakish short leg fieldsman, Lahiru Thiramanne, to snaffle Prior. Channelling the spirit of Mickey Stewart – the Surrey jackrabbit from the Fifties who pioneered the pre-emptive shuffle in sync with the batsman’s own movements – Lahiru instinctively moved finer as Prior shaped to sweep. He middled it. It would have raced away for four, bringing the target down to 103 with six wickets in hand.

But the boy under the helmet anticipated Prior’s execution to be in the perfect position to chest the ball into his palms and grab it at the second attempt. It may have been tough luck on Prior, but that’s where the issue of luck finishes. This was an inspirational, intuitive piece of work, and in its own way as worthy of winning a Test match as was Mahela Jayawardene’s dominant first-day masterpiece.

So let’s not skulk about wringing our hands and crying into our Wills ‘n’ Kate commemorative mugs. Choose instead to remember Jimmy Anderson passing Matthew Hoggard as England’s most successful bowler of his generation with a spell of professorial seam bowling; choose Mahela’s checked pick-up shots over midwicket; take Swanny’s six-fer and feisty post-day interview which contained a touch of ‘up yours’ amongst the trademark vaudeville.

Take Trott’s methodology, Lahiru’s imagination, Asad Rauf’s sunhat and Rangana Herath’s passable impression of a wobbly uncle wheeling away on a Sunday afternoon. It seems such a waste to turn away when there’s so much to see.

All Out Cricket

Whether you’re an armchair enthusiast or an avid player, All Out Cricket magazine is a great read for cricket fans of all ages and tastes.

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