Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Third Test: Sri Lanka win by 134 runs



Although it feels almost too depressing to write about, several things have to be acknowledged about this match, only Sri Lanka's second ever Test match victory over England in this country. First, England did not lose the series - so they remain unbeaten at home (in terms of series) since 2001; second, Muralitharan is one of the greatest bowlers of all time; third, England have a half-baked team - even though seven of the Ashes-winning squad played in this match, the absence of key performers like Vaughan, Harmison and Simon Jones has made all the difference; fourth, English cricket is going through a psychological handicap that seems to affect all English sport: complacency.

No one expected Sri Lanka to perform well in this series. Unfortunately, that included the England team who seriously underestimated their opponents. Jayawardene out-thought Flintoff throughout this match - where Fred stuck to unimaginative, over-defensive field placings and bowling changes, Jayawardene mixed things up, experimented and learned the lessons of the two previous matches. As so often, England suffered from the belief that the Sri Lankan tail would just roll over and die once seven wickets were down, a belief which has cost them dear in matches for several years now. Knowing they were up against a theoretically weaker side, England simply didn't try hard enough (nine dropped catches at Lord's tell their own story). And, when things suddenly started to look difficult, they tried too hard.

The problem in this match was largely with the batting, however. It seems that England know only one game - get out there and blast the bowling. That sort of cricket doesn't work against a side more intent on attritional cricket, ekeing out runs in singles and aiming to occupy the crease. Against a spinner who's almost unreadable, attempting anything cavalier is likely to end in disaster. And so it proved.

Presumably English attention has been focused more on the series against Pakistan, coming up in the summer. Let's hope the homework will not have been wasted, and let's hope this series will have served as a warning. England are not the best team in the world, nor even the second best. They have to fight to regain the psychological top spot. The Ashes are coming (which I predict we will lose, especially if the side is still weakened) and the Australians forgive no weakness, especially on their home soil.

Let's not let the football wrench attention away from English cricket. Let's give the fans something to cheer.


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