Monday, 16 June 2014

Review of the 1st Test v Sri Lanka

Despite an epic finish, the First Test at Lord's ended up in a draw as a combination of too good a pitch, a lack of a proper spinner and the same old 'safety first' tactics from Alastair Cook, denied them a victory. In a game played in scorching June weather for the first two days, the home of cricket looked sensational but the track was as bland as the commentary of Andy Townsend for the first three days. The lack of a decent spinner made about as much sense as Andy's pearls of wisdom on ITV too, and even though Alastair Cook's lads gave it a real go at the end, it wasn't quite good enough. On the positive side, at least our cricketers were the only ones out of our national teams not to lose, on a weekend when the rugby lads went down unluckily to New Zealand.
Lord's on the first morning
There is something amazing about the first morning of a Lord's Test. Unlike eggs, your meat, Northamptonshire or the outside edge of my bat, you just can't beat the first morning of the first Test of the summer. After a quick look at Geoffrey Boycott on his way into the media centre, resplendent in a grey suit and boater hat, and Matt Prior and Stuart Broad on their way to the Nursery Ground nets, in temperatures in the late twenties degrees centigrade, I took my place in the Compton Upper. My seat was underneath the corner of the press box, often known colloquially as 'Cherie Blair's mouth'. If we were going to refer to it in terms of the Labour Party members, I would have been in the firing line of Roy Hattersley's spittle.

Lord's in recent years has started to have celebrity campanologists, but it was England ringing the changes as we brought in Sam Robson, Gary Ballance, Moeen Ali, Liam Plunkett and Chris Jordan. For Sri Lanka there was no Malinga the Slinger or Senanayake the erm, off spin bowler. I had a feeling that the English crowd may vote with their feet after the debacle in Australia, and tickets at £75 a pop, but the 'Mankading' of Buttler, decent weather and the loyalty of the Lord's crowd ensured that there were full houses virtually every day apart from the last. The visitors won the toss and elected to bowl on a day when it was seriously hot. The green tinge of the first hour disappeared in front of our eyes.

Robson nicked off early, Cook looked scratchy, Bell played some pretty shots before throwing it away and in a week in which the comedic genius of the man who played Lord Flashheart passed away, Gary Ballance flashed hard without much success. England were soon 120-4. Enter the 'Beard that's Feared', Moeen Ali. Ali and Root batted very sensibly. Running brilliantly between the wickets, they showed heart on a pitch that albeit got easier by the minute, but still got their country out of a mess. Matt Prior also bounced back well with a fine eighty six having been under pressure. With the country calling for Buttler, Prior played an extremely combative innings. Fair play to him. As the temperatures rose in the Compton Upper, so much so that a couple of people were taken away by ambulance, so did the scoreboard. Sri Lanka's over rate was slower than the Ukranian Tourist Board's workload at present.


Matt Prior meets the Middle Stump


The English tail wagged and all stayed with Root. The track was so good for batting there were bets being taken on whether Root would get his 200, when he was on about 120. Jordan, Broad and Plunkett all gave it some long handle and then finally Joe got his double ton. The cries of "ROOOOOOOOT" resounded around the Home of Cricket. Pradeep bowled quickly for Sri Lanka, although really confusingly I had a conversation with a mate of mine about a bloke called Fernando, which the Lord's scoreboard referred to him as, before we suddenly twigged we were talking about the same bloke. England got 575-9 against a bowling line up that Michael Vaughan had described as being "like a county attack" before the start of the game. Eranga bowled well, although Herath looked like he had piled on more weight in recent years than Glenn Hoddle. It is a shame this pitch didn't undulate as much as the rotund left armer's gut.

On the positive side on the Friday I had managed to blag my way into the member's bar in the Warner Upper. £3.80 a pint, as opposed to £4.90 with the general riff raff and with smaller queues were a result. The demographic of a Lord's crowd is an interesting experience and the back row of this stand no doubt, had accumulated more wealth than the GDP of numerous African countries. Red Jeans seemed to be de rigeur, often worn with a MCC bacon and egg blazer. The Veuve Clicquot tent at £70 a bottle did well, but Pimms at £23 a jug seemed to be the flavour of the month, even if you did have to pay a refundable £20 deposit on the vessel itself.

On a differing note, we had the Yorkshire Tea Break, the Harrogate Spring Hydration Break and all sorts of branded nonsense. What next? The Vodafone Umpire's Call? The Montessori Nursery End? The Ann Widdecombe Mound Stand? Please, no.


ROOOOOOT...200 not out

When Sri Lanka batted it was all a bit samey. On Saturday morning it did chuck it down like erm, erm you know who, but alas it didn't make the conditions any more sporting for the bowlers. A diet of right arm seam from the hosts was crying out for a quality twirler, and surely England can't pick this attack in the long run? Cook also was quite content to have two slips and a gulley and it lacked ideas, lacked vision and lacked spark. In football terms, it is how Sam Allardyce would play cricket. I would have liked to have seen him open up mid on or mid off and force the batsman to drive, bringing his catchers into play. On the last day when England needed wickets he still had the man out on the fence saving runs, and it was only at the very end that he crowded the bat. It is conservative captaincy with a capital C, and a more attacking skipper may have winkled out the Sri Lankans. In addition his batting has suffered for a while now, and with Kevin Pietersen sitting in the stands with Piers Morgan, Cook is our best bat. His batting may not currently be reaching the dizzy heights of yesteryear, but at least this England captain won't be reaching the heights of 35,000 feet like the next one of the football team in a couple of weeks. If only there were other candidates to do the job?

Sangakkara got a classy ton, Mathews also helped himself to one and Sri Lanka ended up on 453 all out. In reply England made a decent pitch look ok, when they should have pushing hard to set the visitors a target and take the initiative. Ballance got a hundred just before the end of play, and now finds his name on the honours board at Lord's. The fulcrum of the English line up, he tipped us over the edge so we couldn't lose, and he gives us a load of puns to work with. When was the last time two Yorkshire players finished unbeaten with hundreds in each innings of a Test match? Hindsight may be a wonderful thing, but should Cook have declared earlier and had half an hour at the visitors last night?


Plunkett....wheels

There were a few strange things in this game though. Sri Lanka adopted a form of bodyline which accounted for Prior, and at one point had three men in a row. A short leg, a square leg and a deep square was something that I don't think that I have ever encountered before. The use of leg slips and leg gulleys also took us back to a bygone era, and it was obvious that Chris Adams as Sri Lanka coach had done his homework on the shortcomings of the English batsmen last winter. In the main though, the pitch was too slow for anything.

On the final day, Plunkett bowled with proper heat. Already this year he has 'sconed' a couple of batsmen for Yorkshire and he did Silva good and proper on the final morning. So much so that it rebounded to mid off! All in all, apart from Robson all the new lads contributed, but the balance of the team is not right. Someone needs to get Monty Panesar out of the hole that he is currently in, as he is the best spinner in the country by far. I don't care if he is taking the piss, heavily on the piss or giving the piss, let's get him sorted out.

For Sri Lanka it is unlikely that we will see Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene bat together again in the capital. It is a shame and they have been fine servants not only to Sri Lanka, but to the game in general. Then we had the amazing finale. Just when we thought the last day would be as interesting as a Phil Neville opinion, wickets suddenly fell until we needed two from the last over. First ball Herath departed a la Kasprowicz in 2005 with his hand off the bat and then fifth ball we thought we had Fernando. Or is his name Pradeep? Whatever he is called, he got an inside edge on it and got a reprieve. After the next ball it was all over; a great game but it was a draw.

Zzzzzzzz

All in all it was a vastly improved performance, but pitches like this also don't help. Yes it was a runfest and it lasted for five days. It was too biased in the batting team's favour, and even though it ended in a draw, it was still less boring than ITV's coverage of the World Cup. No doubt, Adrian Chiles and Co. will ruin coverage of something Brazilian, more than if David Blunkett gave his girlfriend a 'quim trim'.

Cricket will always be far finer entertainment than listening to Andy Townsend.

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