Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Paddy's Sports View 6th June 2006

For the "Bahrain Tribune"

There was a rather surreal atmosphere at the Third Test match at Trent Bridge which finished on Monday. That the sun shone for most of the time was a surprise - although the fact that some in the crowd (ignoring the warnings) removed their shirts in a salute to Apollo rather less so. Nor was it a surprise that fairly large numbers attended the match in fancy dress – a rather strange tradition that has grown up at English grounds for international matches over the last few years. At the end of the match a fellow spectator, who was as disappointed as me at home side’s inept performance, suggested that the winners of the fancy dress contest should have been the eleven England players whose appearance in the England Test kit seemed as improbable as the group of Nottingham policemen (presumably off duty) dressed as Carmelite nuns!

When Sri Lanka was 139-8 not long after lunch on the first day it seemed that this was to be a grossly unequal contest. And so it turned out, but not in the way that we all expected. That England failed to finish off the Sri Lankan tail was not a surprise – their failure to go for the jugular when on top has been a feature of the whole three match series. But England’s inability to build on the advantage of (eventually) having dismissed Sri Lanka for 231 in their own first innings was culpable. To score only 229 runs on a good pitch and with a side containing six players in the top seven in the batting order who were present in the Ashes winning line up from last year was a dire effort. Worse they took 91 overs amassing their paltry total and only Pietersen and Jones were out to Muralitheran (both slogging). The rest fell to the other Sri Lankan bowlers or (in Trescothick’s case) to a daft run out. Yes this was ultimately to be one of Murali’s finest matches and his eight wicket hall as England’s second innings crumbled was a just reward for the Tamil master. But he only had the opportunity to do this because England played so below par and because his team-mates in the Sri Lankan side batted, bowled and fielded with determination and skill.

Tom Moody, the Sri Lankan’s Australian coach, will have been immensely proud of the efforts of his team during this Test series. The auguries were unpromising as the usual power struggles in Sri Lankan cricket had led to some bizarre selection confusions (not least Sanath Jayasuriya jetting in unexpectedly to play despite having retired from Test cricket). But it all worked out alright in the end and Moody can be particularly pleased that the young players like Malinga, Tharanga and the teenage Kapugedera all played their parts at Trent Bridge and throughout the series. As for England there is little to take away to comfort them from the matches and nothing at all from the third Test match. Pietersen aside the batting was below par (there were only four scores above 50 in the series - apart from Petersen’s two brilliant hundreds). And England’s bowling lacked the penetration and power to support the admirable and always reliable Matthew Hoggard. Even worse England’s injury woes continue with (it seems) Andrew Flintoff now likely to join Vaughan, Jones, Giles and Harmison in the treatment room.

Winning Test matches away from home is the mark of a good side and Sri Lanka’s achievement is put into perspective when we reflect that this was only the second time that England has lost a home Test match in nearly three years (the first Test against Australia at Lord’s last year was the other one). There are some big lessons to be learned for the rather complacent and confused England management before the Pakistan Test series begins in July. Whilst they will with justice say that England’s bowling attack has been severely weakened by injury this is not the case with the batting (Vaughan aside). Meanwhile the Sri Lankans can look forward to the One Day internationals with some confidence. The team spirit is very good and they are well led - Mahela Jayawardene gave Andrew Flintoff a tactical master class at Trent Bridge and I will be surprised if he doesn’t also lead his team to a comfortable win in the five match One Day series.