Whatever misgivings they may carry back with them, the English must concede that in at least one aspect they were absolutely no match for the islanders. That is when it came to the falling rain. They would also readily concede there is plenty of rain happening outside Manchester. Four of the five one-dayers were mightily affected by the downpour and the last of them also suffered the same fate, even though the result was a foregone conclusion, long before the heavens opened up. It was a memorable drenching all-told and brought about the resurgence of old Duckworth, Lewis and somebody else, back in to the forefront of deciding who won what.
Much egg on their face
Continually punching above one’s weight helps overcome inhibition and meekness in men. Cricketers are no exception. Overwhelmed initially, Sri Lanka noticeably got better in their 4th outing and still better in the 5th. In that final game England looked rusty, sloppy and careless. Out-batted, out bowled and definitely out-fielded, England must rue having gone into this final game in somewhat of a condescending mood as they came away with a lot of egg on their face. Sri Lanka smarting under the whiplash of public humiliation, gave a fine account of themselves as they handed England one of their heaviest one day defeats, ever. Once having clawed back into form, Sri Lankans can emerge a completely reinvented side. The games ahead would be revealing.
The selectors merit commendation for some brave decisions. In leaving out the tried and tested Malinga for the 5th ODI, they took a calculated gamble and it paid off. Malinga did well enough to merit selection but as the results show, the shock element of yards of extra pace which Rajitha and Chameera infused, caught the Englishmen on the wrong foot. All it took was just 10 minutes into their innings to see the backs of three of them, and the result from then on was a foregone conclusion. The pitches prepared were commendable and even though Premadasa seemed somewhat tacky and on the slow side, it was a noticeable improvement on their previous efforts.
In that 5th ODI, Niroshan Dickwella surpassed himself. Shelving his usual impetuosity but never missing out on an opportunity, Dickwella played the kind of innings that would make him a serious contender as the man around whom Sri Lanka may want to revive their fortunes at the top of the order in their future one day games. His resurgence started with the two encounters at Pallekele and he took his game one notch higher at the Premadasa. This was an innings of controlled command. Not until he was deeply entrenched did he attempt the reverse sweep and once so done, the disease took on epidemic proportions as he repeatedly indulged in all forms of the sweep, mostly quite unproductively. Finally, frustration drove him to hack across the line and spin of Moeen and hole out tamely to Root, somewhere in the country. He fell 5 short of a well deserved hundred.
All told, Sri Lanka played commanding cricket. It was a pointer to what they could achieve once a decent start was delivered. The batting was mightily impressive. So were the running between the wickets and the strike rotation. The fielding was snappy, even electric and complemented the pace of Chameera and Rajitha who quickly reduced the English top order into a complete shambles. Tom Curren, Mark Wood and Liam Plunkett made little or no impression when it mattered, while the English fielding on the day did their reputation no favours.
Sri Lanka will do well to build on this result, forget reputations, play to their strengths and carry forward their new found momentum. Their strengths must include their fast men, of whom far too little note has been made. It would be a great pity if the Test wickets are prepared to the exclusion of the pacemen as they infuse so much entertainment to the proceedings. English pace outside their own shores may not warrant overly concern. Without conditions ideal for swing, they may not be the same force they are, back home.
Many things which happen around cricket these days, beggars belief. Planners tend to defy weather patterns and climate change. The English season now starts in late spring and encroaches into autumn. It’s the same elsewhere. Monsoons arrive out of kilter and they also play cricket in the desert. Consequently, everyone ends up playing too much, in not the most congenial of times and places. Cricketers have no time to recuperate or rest their weary bones. Coaches have no time to rebuild teams. Everything happens on the run. In all of this, player welfare does not appear to feature too prominently in the scheme of things. It is a small wonder how cricketers can play so much so often, and yet remain fit and fresh enough to perform on the following day, as if it were the first day of summer.
Cricket mad; football crazy!
Jonny Bairstow is well known for his near fanatical zeal to play for his country. Its writ on his forehead. A near broken finger notwithstanding, he could not be kept out of the England team against India for long. Now in Sri Lanka and much to his chagrin, he got sidelined at a vital stage, having injured himself whilst playing football during training.
Chris Woakes had to sit out a part of the last Test series in England having injured himself playing football at training before a Test Match. Not to be outdone, Usman Khawaja forlornly looked on as Australia – sadly and definitely missing his presence in the 2nd innings – suffered a humiliating defeat in Abu Dhabi. It was another football related injury at training during the Test match.
Remembering the role Khawaja played in securing that heroic draw in Dubai one Test before, it could be said that this football skit has cost Test teams dear, with its beneficial effects much like the value of the reverse sweep to a well set batsman, willing to use his feet. The sweep may bring runs, but it can also bring about a batsman’s downfall when it goes completely askew, never mind how silly he looks in the process.
These are but three instances where Test players either failed to make the Test team or were deprived from further participation due to injuries acquired while playing football at training. The question will soon be asked how relevant football is in a cricketer’s training? Had Fred Trueman been around he would have had plenty to say, including reminding everybody that all he did was to bowl a 1000 over a season to get fit for Test match duty! Times have changed indeed!
More on that Dubai Test
That epic draw in Dubai deserves further mention. Not since the fourth Test in Adelaide between Australia and the West Indies in January 1961 has there been anything like this to fire one’s imagination. In a game where the underdog needed 462 to win with a near day and a half to go, the outcome was decided only with the last ball on the final day. That Australia held out against the hot favourites in their adopted ‘home’ territory was almost in the realm of the surreal. Had Hollywood been noticed to enact the perfect ending, they could not have done much better. For sheer anti-climax, this was hard to beat.
Here in the Dubai desert with not a tree in sight and played in temperatures fiery enough to fry eggs in the middle, a near surreal game of cricket unfolded, in front of friends and family of the players and some free loading school children. Facing near insurmountable odds, Australia dug deep into their withered reserves and came up with an energy sapping display of guts, resolve and patience, to finally stave off defeat by the skin of their teeth. The salvage action enacted would have rivaled any of the other close finishes in the annals of the game, barring that Adelaide Test of 57 years ago against the West Indies. That draw must still rank as the champion of them all.
The Dubai Test result said a lot about many things, not the least about the state of the pitch. That a wicket in the desert could hold out for five full days giving encouragement to pace and spin alike, whilst still allowing batsmen willing to defy the bowlers’ wiles a sporting chance to survive, is testimony to the skill of the Curator concerned.
A Swabasha Psychologist
Australia minus the stricken Khawaja in their 2nd innings in Abu Dhabi lacked the same intensity of temperament and technique and it showed. The nagging persistence of Mohamed Abbas and the wiles of Yasir Shah were all too much for a team struggling to stay in the realm of Test cricket. Test teams cannot survive on one man’s resolve alone. Much like Australia, Sri Lanka now need cricketers tough in spirit and mind and well endowed with technique. One hears the Lankans now seek the help of an Aussie psychologist to steel up their players’ minds. Psychologists may be fine, but they involve a lot of talking, information exchange and understanding. Given their current lack of English skills it might serve the Sri Lankan camp better, if they found a psychologist more familiar with the vernacular than anybody else from anywhere else. Action taken in good faith, must also be allowed to bear their best results.