Tuesday, May 16, 2006

First Test: Match drawn



Until now, every England Test match I have ever attended has been won by England.

Mid-way through Saturday, there was no reason why this should not have continued to be the case. We'd made a comfortable 551-6dec, with Pietersen matching (but not exceeding, the imbecile) his highest Test score, and skittled the amateur-looking opposition for 192. With two and a half days to go, it was absolutely the right thing to do to enforce the follow-on.

Perhaps there should be an England policy of never enforcing the follow-on, however, because we made incredibly heavy weather (even when the actual weather was fine) of bowling them out a second time and, indeed, failed to do so. Credit must be given to the Sri lankans for a highly heroic fightback, led by captain Mahela Jayawardene and supported by virtually everyone else, but England's performance was as amateur as Sri Lanka's had looked earlier. Flintoff, still uncomfortable in his role as captain, lacked the imagination necessary to alter the pace and balance of the match with the kind of experimentation and unorthodoxy that has been the trademark of his predecessor, Michael Vaughan (whose Second Coming we anticipate with as much fervour as your average Jehovah's Witness). Setting defensive fields when England were still over 200 ahead was inexplicable. To make matters worse, Flintoff mistook his team's efforts for his own personal efforts and believed that he should therefore be the man to bowl the way to victory. He will pay for the fifty overs he sent down, and England will pay with him.

What really let the side down was the catching - England put down either nine or ten chances, depending on how difficult you judge a catch to be before it becomes a chance. This won't always be the case, of course, but our fielding has often been one of the stronger parts of our game. Our bowling was weakened by the absence of Jones, Harmison and Anderson and at least one of them should be fit for the Second Test. Our batting, contrary to its reputation, was magnificent (although Sri Lanka can hardly be said to have the most devastating attack in world cricket).

These matches were supposed to be the warm-up for the series against Pakistan later in the year, but one thing has emerged more clearly than anything - English complacency, so often our enemy, has no place in this current series. The England team have been given a wake-up call. Not, thank goodness, a tough one - we didn't lose the match and were never in danger of it - but we've been reminded that we have to fight for every victory. If we're the second best team in the world, we'd better start playing like we are and no longer taking it for granted just because we had a great series last summer.


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