OK. I’ve scoured the papers, re-watched the highlights and double checked against the scorecards on Cricinfo AND Cricbuzz. It appears they all agree. So either England won the 1st test match against Sri Lanka at Cardiff or we’ve all been the victims of the most perfectly perpetrated scam since those pesky Greeks left a large, hollow wooden gift for some much maligned Trojans about 3300 years ago.
For four and three quarter days I, and the entire Sofa team, were given a lesson in anticlimax and futility. Why, we opined, do they insist on playing test matches in Cardiff? In May? As the curtain raiser for the season?
The weather, the pitch and the evident lack of interest from the locals had deadened our spirits. Talk had veered away from the match as early as day two and the most excited any of us got was at the news that twitter pal @batshitinsane had been “deleted”. We were loping through the days like extras in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, when suddenly Tremlett, the big Indian, wrenched the Sri Lankans’ dressing room sink from its moorings and hurled it through their figurative window leaving a bigger mess than this extended metaphor.
In 24.4 overs, roughly two hours of playing time (or “a session” as it’s commonly called everywhere except Cardiff where “sessions” tend to be either one hour or three hours long depending on the time of day), Tremlett, Swann and eventually Broad, bundled out a side containing Jayawardene, Sangakarra and Samaraweera who all average 50+. Dilshan, Paranavitana and the younger Jayawardene are pretty handy too. I mean, guys, it’s not like this was Australia or Zimbabwe.
The pitch had been pretty decent throughout, though there were signs that England’s pacemen could get variable bounce even in the 1st innings. But we have been here before, and very recently at that. After all, yesterday was the fifth time in less than a year that England had bowled a side out for under 100. It was also their fifth innings victory in 7 matches and only on the flattest road at Brisbane have they failed to take 20 wickets in that time.
So why did England bat so turgidly on day four, and even more bafflingly, waste a potentially vital 4 overs ushering Bell to his hundred on the final afternoon?
No doubt it seems churlish to complain when your side has just completed a stunning victory, but I remain baffled. Strauss has said that leaving Bell stranded would have sent the team out with negative feelings in the field. Clearly Strauss knows his men better than I do and has been vindicated by the result. Indeed, such concern for one’s teammates could be viewed as the vital cornerstone around which team spirit is built and maintained. But 53 overs was scarcely long enough to force a result, let alone 49. Might Bell have been persuaded to take one for the team?
And a lead of 96 was always going to be perilous. Might not the matchless Trott and Bell have been encouraged to get a wriggle on during the 63 overs available on day four? After all, when Morgan came out for the last few overs he batted like a man as frustrated as the rest of us by the torpor we had witnessed. And had the Lankans been bundled out for 140 with 3 overs left, we would all have been incandescent with rage and unfullfillment.
But rather than dwell on counter factuals I shall instead proffer a theory. England don’t yet know how good they are. The great sides, the recent Australians and 80s West Indians, would have believed 53 overs was enough to bowl out the Lankans and would have batted, and declared, accordingly. England, despite their recent success, haven’t quite worked out that they could be as good.
Apparently Strauss wouldn’t have been able to live with himself if he’d declared and the match had ended in a bore draw, implying this was the outcome he expected.
But the time has come for him, and the rest of the team to wise up. They have the batting to play aggressively and get ahead of the game. They have the bowlers to cause panic. They have the fielders to take the vital catches. Amazingly, the only thing they lack, in a world bedeviled with fatuous “positive thinking” and Neuro Linguistically Programmed, media trained, win-speak is belief. Hopefully, yesterday’s astounding effort in the field will change all that.