England v Sri Lanka: Three talking points as tourists win
England v Sri Lanka: Three talking points as tourists win off penultimate ball to secure 1-0 series victory
Pride comes before… redemption?
In the end, as it would have been at Lord’s but for the Decision Review System hauling Sri Lanka back from the brink, it was the penultimate ball, the final exhausted push after five days and a little under 436 overs of thrust and counter-thrust, which decided it. To have even got that far, though, to have been so close to becoming the first team in Test history to save a game on the last day having batted through from five wickets down at the start, demonstrated quite how much England can take from this game, should they choose to do so. To a man, they fought, from centurion Moeen Ali (of whom more anon) to doughty foot soldier James Anderson, possessor now of the second longest ever – in terms of balls faced – Test duck. But the next stage is vital. This series is done, but five Tests against India are looming on the horizon, and England must now, as Bertie Wooster always strove to do, rise on the stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things. This is now the template. Amidst the post-series recriminations, it should not be lost that there is serious talent in this team. From this point on, though, every day must be approached with this day’s mindset, with the same levels of concentration, determination and desire.
England seem to be making something of a habit of this. At Lord’s, Gary Ballance scored a hundred in his second Test appearance. At Headingley, it was the turn of first Sam Robson to do the same and then on the last day, magnificently, Moeen Ali. His innings was probably the best of those three, 108 undefeated runs compiled with remarkable levels of calmness and class which belied a first class average of under 40. He had shown early promise at Lord’s, with an elegant 48, but a couple of airy drives since had put him under pressure coming into the second innings here. But when the occasion called for someone to stand up and be counted, he arrived at the crease for the first ball of the day and was there at the last, defining his team’s rearguard action. At the other end, meanwhile, a mere 56 runs came off the bat, and after the dismissal of Chris Jordan off the second ball of the 89th over of the innings, 28 and a half overs passed without another batsman scoring any at all. To be asked to shoulder this degree of responsibility would have broken a lesser man. Moeen, it seems, is made of sterner stuff.
Dramatic denouement with the short ball
England’s bowling attack has spent the latter stages of this Test facing unflattering comparisons with that of their opponents. Give it a chance to swing, they said. Stop flogging it into the pitch half way down, they said. And so once the agony of defeat has faded away, they might allow themselves a small wry smile at the thought that the final dismissal, the end to Anderson’s heroic 56 ball resistance, came from a bouncer to the throat, which he could only fend to backward short leg. Now it would, of course, be facetious to suggest that it was as simple as all that, and that England’s approach was actually the right one all along. It is hard to dispute that bowling at the stumps opens up more modes of dismissal, as compared to the short-pitched stuff which, Nuwan Pradeep’s pratfall at Lord’s against the bowling of Chris Jordan notwithstanding, tends to restrict the bowler to only one. There will also be some who will criticise Anderson, or indeed any batsman in such a situation, for playing at the ball at all, rather than dropping his hands and either trying to get out the way of it or letting it hit him. Then again, perhaps those who do so could be invited to try it some time. This ended up as an epic Test match, with a suitably dramatic finale. Let us just, for now, leave it at that.