A Great Turnaround

My account of an astonishing final day of the Sri Lanka v England test series in Galle, complete with England player ratings and an acknowledgement of Lasith Embuldeniya.

This post deals with the events that unfolded in Galle today, which started with England very much second favourites.

ENGLAND FIRST INNINGS

England resumed 42 runs adrift with one wicket left in their first innings. Five runs were accumulated, four of them by way of a reverse sweep from James Anderson before the end came. Embuldeniya did not add to his seven wickets, but his day was far from done…

SRI LANKA SECOND INNINGS

Sri Lanka started their second innings with an advantage of 37, and plenty of time to build a daunting lead. Unfortunately they lost their heads rather dramatically. Jack Leach and Dominic Bess, bowling much better than they had in the first innings and assisted by some kamikaze batting from the Sri Lankans picked up wickets quickly. By lunch Sri Lanka were six down, and two more wickets fell soon after. There were two splendid catches, Crawley doing well to hang on to one that was hit out of the middle of the bat but straight at him, and Anderson getting underneath a swirling mishit. Embuldeniya, barely rested from his bowling stint, proceeded to play an innings that shamed most of his supposed betters with the bat, producing a first class career best 40 chock full of common sense. He succeeded in having Bess removed from the attack, but then he and no11 Asitha Fernando fell to successive Joe Root deliveries, leaving Sri Lanka all out for 126, and England facing a target of 164 to win.

ENGLAND 2ND INNINGS

Crawley did reach double figures for the first time in the series, but then honoured protocol by falling to Embuldeniya for the fourth successive time. Bairstow made a small contribution, Root failed, and Lawrence played a poor shot before he had given himself time to get a proper sight of the ball. At that point the score was 89-4, and England were by no means safe. Embuldeniya had three of the wickets, giving him ten for the match. Sibley was grinding away at one end, and was now joined by Buttler. Buttler batted sensibly, keeping the scoreboard ticking, although Sri Lanka were not doing nearly enough to make things difficult – singles were regularly there for the taking. As England closed in, Sibley completed a 50 which was worth more than a century on a flat track would have been. He had his good fortune, with a couple of close LBW appeals being turned down and being labelled “umpire’s call” by the DRS. However, the second of the two had hit him above the knee roll, and he is quite tall, so one can understand why it was considered too high by the umpire. Also, all fortune, good or ill, to one side, he showed an immense amount of character after a very poor series up to that point. Buttler just missed out on what would have been his second fifty of the match, but he was there at the end as England won by six wickets, to take the series 2-0.

THE PLAYER OF THE MATCH AWARD AND EMBULDENIYA

England’s win by six wickets effectively ensured that Joe Root, who had a second successive great game, would be player of the match. Had Sri Lanka bowled England out a second time and emerged victorious Embuldeniya would have been a deserving recipient, and even had the margin been three wickets rather than six he would have merited consideration. As it was a margin as comfortable as six wickets really did mean that someone from the winning team had to be chosen, and with all respect to Anderson and to Sibley for his gritty second innings effort Root was the only serious candidate. Root was also the Player of the Series, which was an absolute shoo-in. Embuldeniya’s combination of 40 and a 10 wicket haul got some of us thinking about other notable combinations of runs with big wicket hauls, and here are six of the best from test history:

  1. Melbourne 1883 – Billy Bates took seven wickets in each innings, including England’s first ever test hat trick, and scored 55 in England’s only innings
  2. The Oval 1902 – Hugh Trumble scored 64 not out and 7 not out and took eight first innings and four second innings wickets, but as with Embuldeniya could not win it for his side, England sneaking home by one wicket. Trumble had the best match aggregate for Australia with 71 runs, and bowled unchanged through both England innings for his 12 wicket haul.
  3. Alan Davidson 1960 – He took 5-135 in the West Indies first innings of 453, 6-87 in their second innings 284 and contributed 44 to Australia’s first innings 505 and 80 to their second innings 232, having to settle for a place in history as part of test cricket’s first ever tie, rather than a win.
  4. Ian Botham, Bombay 1980 (it was not called Mumbai in those days) – 6-58, 114 not out when no one else even topped 50, 7-48 in an innings victory.
  5. Imran Khan, Faisalabad 1982 – 6-98, 117, 5-82 in an innings win over India
  6. Richard Hadlee, Brisbane 1985 – 9-52 in the first innings, an all time test record for an out and out fast bowler, a blistering 54 (four of each kind of boundary) which enabled skipper Coney to declare with two full days in hand for Australia to be dismissed a second time, and six more wickets to finish the job.

ENGLAND PLAYER RATINGS

Dominic Sibley – 7/10. His gritty second innings saved a dire series for him, and spared England some potentially major blushes, sending him and them on to India in good heart.

Zak Crawley – 3/10. Two horrific failures with the bat, but he did hold one fine catch during the Sri Lankan second innings.

Jonathan Bairstow – 5/10. stabilised the ship in the England first innings after both openers had gone cheaply, but did then get out first thing on the following morning. A modest contribution to the second innings. Although he batted well at times he never did so for long enough in this series, as evidenced by a highest score of 47.

Joe Root – 9/10. 186 in the first innings, a couple of wickets to end the Sri Lankan second innings, but a failure at a crucial moment in the England second innings blotted his otherwise stellar copybook, costing him one mark.

Dan Lawrence – 3/10. A double failure with the bat this time, and his second innings shot was quite awful. He did take a catch in the field along the way.

Jos Buttler – 7/10. A fifty in the first innings, just missed out on that mark in the second, but played a crucial role in seeing England home. A competent effort with the gloves.

Sam Curran – 4/10. Largely unthreatening with the ball, though he did bag a wicket in the first innings, he hung around briefly with the bat, but did nothing to alter the impression that no7 is a place too high for him in a test batting order.

Dominic Bess – 7-10. His first innings bowling was largely unthreatening, he played a fine support knock in England’s first innings, and bagged four wickets in the second innings.

Mark Wood – 5/10. Three first innings wickets, none in the second. His shot near the end of day three was a poor one, and an absolute shocker in the circumstances.

Jack Leach – 7/10. Toiled through 36 overs in the first innings, getting no wickets. Bowled well in the second and was rewarded with four wickets. He now has more wickets in Sri Lanka than any other England bowler.

James Anderson – 8.5/10. Without his bowling in the first innings England would have been buried – SL would have had over 500 on the board. In the second innings he did not get among the wickets but did take a fine catch, doing well to get under a swirling mishit.

This is England’s fifth successive away test victory, their best run on foreign soil since they followed victories in the last four matches of the 1911-2 Ashes with another three to start the 1913-4 tour of South Africa. The bowling spearhead then was another right arm fast medium with Lancashire connections, albeit more to league cricket than to the county, Sydney Francis Barnes, and he was just a shade older than Anderson is now, being past 40 by the end of the South African series. India will be a much tougher tour – this Sri Lankan team are not used to winning, and that manifests itself in an obvious lack of killer instinct at key moments, whereas India surmounted huge difficulties to best the Aussies in their own backyard.

PHOTOGRAPHS

I end as usual with some photographs…

Hotting Up In Galle

A look at day three in Galle and a couple of issues raised therein.

This post looks at day three of Sri Lanka v England and at a couple of issues the arise from today’s play.

ROOT VS EMBULDENIYA

Although others contributed a fascinating third day in Galle was dominated by two players. Joe Root of England confirmed that he has rediscovered the art of going seriously big, as it took a run out in the day;s last over to dislodge him, by which time he had moved to 186. The other overarching performer was Sri Lanka’s left arm spinning find Lasith Embuldeniya who took his haul for the innings to seven wickets, Other than the impertubable England skipper the only person to play Embuldeniya with any great comfort was Jos Buttler who made a decent half century. The other significant batting effort on the day came from Dominic Bess, who came in with England staring down the barrel of a three-figure deficit on first innings with Sri Lanka to bat last. By the time he was dismissed the difference between the sides was under 50, and England were looking in the hunt. Unfortunately the odd looking decision to send the flamboyant Wood in ahead of the adhesive Leach with the close of play approaching did not work out well, and then there was the freakish run out of Root which ended the day, leaving England 339-9 in reply to Sri Lanka’s 381, with Leach and Broad to resume batting tomorrow.

ENGLAND’S BALANCING PROBLEMS ABSENT STOKES

Sam Curran looks a place too high in the order as a test match number seven, and the reason he is there is because on flat wickets England need to equip themselves with plenty of bowling options, and with Ben Stokes not available for this series they did not have their great x-factor player to turn to, which left them to choose between lengthening the batting or the bowling. Rightly in view of the conditions in which this series is happening they opted for the latter. There is strong evidence to support the view that if having to choose between batting and bowling strength the bowling strength is more important:
Surrey won seven county championships in the 1950s with an average batting side that possessed a stellar bowling attack, Yorkshire won seven championships in the 1930s, and again the key ingredient of their success was a devastating bowling unit, spearheaded by Bill Bowes and Hedley Verity. Finally, in the first decade of the 1900s Yorkshire won five titles, although only one of their batters, David Denton, was good enough to be chosen for England purely on batting skill in that decade, with the key again being an awesome line up of bowlers, headed by the Huddersfield area trio of Hirst, Rhodes and Haigh. Sussex in that same decade had a very deep batting line up, but limited bowling resources, and never came seriously close to winning the title. However, a batting line up with Curran at seven does necessitate those at the top coming to the party and so far this series only the skipper has done so – without him England would undoubtedly be staring a 0-2 defeat in the face rather than being favourites to win the series.

THE ROLE OF DOMINIC BESS

England are desperate for Dominic Bess to establish himself as a test class spinner, because he is a splendid fielder and a capable bat as well. Currently in first class cricket he averages 23.77 with the bat and 29.41 with the ball (137 wickets in 48 matches at that level). In test cricket he averages 24.77 with the bat and 33.37 with the ball (27 wickets in 11 matches). The bowling average and the low wickets/matches ratio – just below 2.5 – both point to the issue: as much he offers outside his main role, barring one good series against South Africa he has yet to deliver in his main role, with the ball.

Today he contributed 32, and looked like he was handling the bowling as well as any of his team mates save Root. It may be that ultimately the way forward for Bess as an international cricketer is to concentrate more on his batting, and aim to be picked as batter who bowls, rather than a bowler who bats. Garry Sobers and Steven Smith were both originally selected at test level as spinners (Sobers was at no9 on test debut, Smith at no8) and ended up making their biggest marks with the bat, although Sobers continued to bowl, whereas Smith has all but given up that aspect of the game. Going back further, Wilfred Rhodes was the best spinner in the world early in his career, and batted no11 for England, and went on to tour Australia in 1911-12 as one of the designated opening batters, hardly bowling at all (he would pick up his bowling after World War 1, and return to the top in that department, finishing his career as once more a specialist bowler, as his sight declined – he would go blind during his retirement – and he could no longer bat). At the moment Bess is always likely to get the nod if England want two front line spinners, and the main in more danger of losing out is Leach, who bowled 36 overs in the first innings here without causing any great problems for the batters, but do not be surprised to see Bess moving up the order in the not distant future, as he seeks to find a more secure niche than ‘bits and pieces guy who gets selected when two spinners are needed’.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Today’s gallery starts with seven pictures on the theme of ‘red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning’, although today’s weather in King’s Lynn, while far from pleasant has not really borne out that saying:

Galle and Brisbane

A look at the two test matches currently in progress, and at Joe Root’s status as an England batter.

There are two test matches in progress at the moment, with overlapping playing hours. This post looks at both.

GALLE: ENGLAND ON TOP

When bad light brought a slightly early end to day three in Galle (due to the old fort that adjoins the ground Galle stadium cannot have floodlights – the fort is a World Heritage Site, so my usual gripe re bad light and test matches does not apply here) Sri Lanka were beginning to offer resistance, but were coming from a very long way behind.

Day Two, also truncated by the weather, saw England establish complete control. Bairstow failed to add to his overnight 47, but debutant Dan Lawrence made a fine 73, Buttler was looking comfortable by the close, and Root had a blemish free 168 not out to his credit. England were 320-4 and looking at all sorts of history if things continued the same way.

Day Three saw the remaining England wickets add just a further 101, Root being last out for a splendid 228. The only chance he offered in this innings was the one that was taken at deep midwicket to end it. Embuldeniya had every right to feel more than a little frustrated, a fine effort with the ball leaving him with figures of 3-176 while the much less impressive Perera had four wickets in the end. Root’s innings took his test aggregate past 8,000, in fewer innings than any England batter save Pietersen (KP 176, Root 178). It now stands at 8,059, meaning that he needs a further 56 to become the all-time leading test run scorer among Yorkshiremen. Inspired by the rapid fall of England’s last six wickets Sri Lanka then showed some fight with the bat, helped it must be said by an unimpressive bowling display from England. Bess could not get his length right, Leach was unlucky, there was little for the quicker bowlers, though Curran picked up a wicket when a rank long hop sailed straight to deep third man. Root tried a few overs but unaccountably Lawrence was not given a go. Mendis finally got off the mark after four successive ducks, a sequence known in the trade as an ‘Audi’, thereby avoiding the ‘Olympic’, but fell just before the close. Sri Lanka sent Embuldeniya in as nightwatchman, and the light closed in quick enough that he was still there at stumps. Scores so far: Sri Lanka 135 and 156-2, England 421, SL need 130 more to avoid the innings defeat.

England are of course heavy favourites, but that should not conceal the problems – Bess has been far too erratic, and if he bowls this kind of stuff in India he will be destroyed, other than Root and Lawrence there were no major batting contributions.

IS ROOT ENGLAND’S GREATEST EVER BATTER?

This question was raised on twitter today, in view of the milestone Root has just reached in test cricket and his great records in the other two formats. My own answer was that this question cannot be resolved because it is impossible to compare different eras, but Root is a magnificent all-format player who would have been a great in any era. I am now going to look, in chronological order, at some of those who might have been just as good had there been multiple formats in their day. I have restricted myself to players who experienced international cricket…

  • WG Grace – the man who virtually created modern batting. He successfully countered every type of bowling that existed in his day, could score rapidly when the occasion warrants (in 1895, less than two months shy of his 47th birthday, he scored 257 and 73 not out v Kent, the latter played against the clock to chase down a target, which was achieved successfully.
  • Jack Hobbs – The Master, capable of very attacking performances, especially in his younger days.
  • Herbert Sutcliffe – as he once famously told Plum Warner “ah luv a dogfight”, a claim borne out by his averages: 52.02 in first class cricket, 60.73 in test cricket, 66.85 in Ashes cricket. Although he is best known for long determined innings, like his seven-hour 161 which began on difficult pitch at The Oval in 1926, and his 135 at Melbourne two and a half years later, he could and did attack when the occasion demanded it. His 100th first class hundred was made with Yorkshire needing quick runs, and he hit eight sixes along the way.
  • Walter Hammond – averaged 58.45 at test level. His highest score was 336 not out against New Zealand, accrued in just 318 minutes. When he scored 1,000 first class runs in May 1927 the innings that completed the achievement came at the expense of Hampshire, and saw him score 192 out of 227 made while he was at the crease. He once started a day’s play v Lancashire by hitting Ted McDonald, then the best fast bowler in the world, for five successive boundaries, and according to Neville Cardus, a Lancastrian, it was only a fine bit of fielding by Jack Iddon that stopped it being six boundaries out of six for the over.
  • Denis Compton – averaged over 50 for England, reached 100 first class hundreds in 552 innings, a tally beaten only by Bradman (295), scored the quickest ever first class triple hundred, reaching the mark in 181 minutes at Benoni in 1948.
  • Peter May – the 1950s were a low and slow scoring decade, and yet Peter May averaged 46 in test cricket through that decade, and was noted for his stroke making.

INDIA FIGHTING HARD AT THE GABBA

India have had terrible problems with injuries during their tour of Australia. Among those on the sidelines for this match were both halves of India’s best new ball pairing, Bumrah and Shami, both of India’s two best test spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja, and others. Nevertheless, they are very far from being down and out at the Gabba. Australia won the toss and batted, scoring 359, with three wickets a piece for Natarajan, Thakur and Sundar, of whom only Thakur had previously played test cricket. India had reached 62-2 in reply before a storm hit Brisbane, bringing an end to play for day two. Rahane and Pujara are together at the crease, with Agarwal and Pant still to come, Sundar at seven capable of making a useful contribution and then the specialist bowlers. If India win it will be an incredible achievement, if they manage the draw and thereby retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy that will still be a mighty effort, and even if Australia ultimately prevail I for one will salute India for making such a fight of this series in the face of so many misfortunes.

PHOTOGRAPHS

I end with my usual sign off…

England in Command in Galle

A look at day 1 of Sri Lanka v England in Galle, and a glimpse at the state of play in BBL10. Also some photographs.

Early this morning UK time the test series between Sri Lanka and England got underway. This post looks back at the first day.

ENGLAND DOMINATE DAY 1

Unsurprisingly given the current situation, with a global pandemic happening, neither side had had anything approaching proper preparation for a test match. Sri Lanka had had no cricket at all since taking a hammering in South Africa. England managed one day of an intra-squad fixture, which with both “sides” containing more than 11 players and arrangements being made that each would bat for at least 50 overs in the first innings had precious little resemblance to a real match – it was more in the nature of an extended net with umpires in position. This lack of preparation was shown in some less than stellar cricket.

Sri Lanka batted first, and mustered 135 all out, a poor score, especially given that almost all of their wickets were lost through bad batting rather than good bowling. There were a couple of freakish dismissals – Bess got one when a shot hit Jonathan Bairstow and Buttler caught the rebound, while Leach got a finger tip to a drive, deflecting it into the bowlers end stumps with Embuldeniya way out of his crease. Bess was also the beneficiary when a really succulent long hop was bashed straight into the hands of backward point. Stuart Broad was in the wickets early on, Jack Leach bowled nicely, and, by hook or by crook, Bess emerged from the fray with 5-30.

After that shocking display with the bat Sri Lanka needed things to happen for them with the ball. To that end they gave the new ball to left arm orthodox spinner Embuldeniya, a clever decision given that Sibley and Crawley would both prefer to begin against seam. It paid early dividends, as both openers perished with only 17 on the board. At that point skipper Root joined Bairstow, a choice at no3 which did not meet universal approval. They played beautifully, although Root was given out LBW fairly early on – he reviewed it, and the technology showed that the ball was going over the top of the stumps. By the close Root had reached 66 not out, Bairstow was on 47 not out, and England at 127-2 were in total control of the match.

Root has recently had problems turning starts into major innings, and he needs to dig in again early on tomorrow and make sure this effort does not go to waste. As for England as whole this is the most dominant opening day they have had since Trent Bridge 2015 when they rolled Australia for 60 and were comfortably into a first innings lead by the end of the day.

Those of us following proceedings by way of Test Match Special were treated during the lunch break to an interview with Justin Langer, coach of Australia. His attitude to the controversy over Steve Smith allegedly scuffing up a batter’s guard at the SCG showed a failure of understanding, and also a huge degree of petulance – it was basically an on-air tantrum. Smith’s actions may well have been as innocent as Langer insists, but what both Smith and Langer need to understand and are apparently unable or unwilling to is that a proven cheat will not be given the benefit of the doubt when such incidents occur.

RECENT BBL ACTION

The tenth running of the Big Bash League is still in full swing. Yesterday the two Sydney franchises locked horns in a top of the table clash. Thunder, batting first, began brilliantly, scoring 47-1 from their four overs of Power Play, but then had a disastrous second period of their innings, being 86-4 after 10 overs. They then slowed up in overs 11-15, declining to take the Power Surge in a bid to revitalize their innings, and found themselves 112-5 after 15. They left the Power Surge right to the end, finally taking it at the last moment they could, for the 19th and 20th overs. They did score 24 off this two overs, but they would probably have done that at the tail end of a T20 innings even without it being a Power Surge, so they effectively did not benefit from those two overs. They ended on 166-6 from 20, at a high scoring ground (the average innings score for a T20 at Manuka is 175). Ir rained during the interval, and a delayed start to the second innings led to a DLS recalculation. Sixers resumed needing 129 from 14 overs to win, and 67 off seven to claim the Bash Boost point, while they would have three overs of Power Play and one of Power Surge. They got off to a flier, secured the Bash Boost point with an over to spare, and maintained the momentum, winning in the end by five wickets, with eight balls to spare. That put them six points clear at the top of the group, and left Thunder just about catchable by the chasing pack.

Today, while I was focussed on the test match the Heat took on bottom of the table Renegades. Renegades mustered 149, which rarely wins a T20 these days. Heat made life a little more difficult for themselves than it should have been by surrendering three quick wickets as they entered the closing stages of the chase, but they won by five wickets in the 19th over. This moves Heat, who also took the Bash Boost point, into the fifth and last qualifying slot on 20 points. Renegades remain on nine points, 11 points short of the qualifying zone with only four games to play, and it is now only a matter of when, rather than if, their early exit from the tournament is officially sealed.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…