Australians aren’t always particularly polite about the standard of the opposition. In a way, this is okay, because they’re equally happy to wheel out brutal opinions about their own team when they don’t do well.
On the other hand, it does mean that the rest of us can portray dismissive comments about the opposition as being extraordinarily hubristic. Take this comment from former fast bowler, Rodney Hogg, for example.
Sri Lanka have the worst new ball attack that has landed on our shores ever.
— Rodney Hogg (@RMHogg) December 11, 2012
And then scrutinise this scorecard.
That would make Australia’s one-day top order what, exactly?11 Appeals
We’ll be honest. Sri Lanka were steady-for-one when we got in the shower. We thought we’d timed it well. We hadn’t.
The World Twenty20 final was an odd one. Sri Lankan run-scoring was stymied and they appeared to be waiting for a particular bowler to hit. He never turned up, so Kumar Sangakkara opted to have a go at Sam One, Samuel Badree. When that failed, Sri Lanka suddenly found that they had to have a go at everyone. That failed too.
Compare that to the West Indies’ innings. They reached the frankly outrageous score of 32-2 after 10 overs, at which point Dwayne Bravo hit a six. “Oh yeah, sixes,” said Sam Two, Marlon Samuels, before wading into Lasith Malinga as if he were a particularly inviting jacuzzi.
This was where the match was won. Sri Lanka ran out of bowlers to target and imploded. West Indies also ran out of bowlers to target but somehow eviscerated the man widely considered to be the finest Twenty20 fast bowler around.
Malinga’s second over featured three sixes and went for 21 runs. In all, he conceded 54 off four overs, including 39 off the 11 balls he delivered to Marlon Samuels. Maybe the Jamaican has his bowling machine set at the wrong height or something.
It’s almost impossible to impress people as a batsman these days. The term ‘Twenty20 specialist’ is undoubtedly pejorative, but there’s also a gap on your CV if you’ve only had Test success. It appears that the second coming of Marlon Samuels transcends formats. We already liked him, but cross-format success really is to be admired.
We’ve plenty of admiration for Sam Three, as well – Darren Sammy. He’s the happiest man alive when he loses, so now that he’s captain of a World Twenty20 winning side we should probably find some way of tapping him to extract the joy. He can spare some. He can spare plenty.6 Appeals
Historically, a drawn Test series in Sri Lanka is a pretty good result for England. Set against that is the fact that Muttiah Muralitharan doesn’t play any more. Sri Lanka’s bowlers are a bit middling. Should England have done better?
Well we’re pretty happy with a draw, particularly after watching three Tests against Pakistan in which we’re pretty certain England never actually batted – we can’t remember any batsmen being at the crease, anyway. Also, at the start of the winter, we pointed out that England’s batsmen were basically untested against spin. As we suspected, most of them turned out to be pretty crap, so a 1-1 draw feels a bit of a result.
So yeah, England could have done better, but it would have been pretty special if they’d managed it. Life isn’t all fillet steak and Chianti Classico. Sometimes you have to acknowledge that you’re pretty lucky that you don’t still live in a world where the only sandwich fillings are ham or egg.
What are we blathering about?
England’s bowling, of course. England’s bowling is a sandwich menu from heaven compared to years gone by. It wasn’t so many years ago that Darren Gough would get injured and you’d have to have potted beef on your sarnie. No-one was happy about that and spin bowling only got up to ‘fish paste on Mighty White’ standard at best.
These days opening bowlers get injured and they’re replaced with prosciutto and brie. A quality spinner gets dropped and some sort of delightfully spiced prawn concoction turns up on toasted ciabatta. It’s unparalleled luxury. We’re so spoilt.
Basically, back in the day, England’s batsmen AND bowlers would have been gash. At least they’re half a side these days.32 Appeals
As abysmal as England’s batsmen have been, the team would stand a pretty decent chance of beating Sri Lanka if they didn’t spend most of their time in the field attempting to dismiss just one of the two batsmen at the crease.
If they’re in Sri Lanka, England are probably bowling to Mahela Jayawardene. In 11 Tests against them, he’s made six hundreds (one a double) and five fifties. He averages 90, but more importantly, he gives off an unmistakeable air of knowing precisely what the hell he is doing.
It’s impossible to ask questions of someone who knows what they’re doing. Peering into your car engine alongside a mechanic, you can’t say: “What’s that wiggly thing?” or “Which bit makes it go?”
Asking questions exposes your own limitations. It’s better keep a low profile and hope no-one exposes you for the worthless human being you know yourself to be.10 Appeals
Brace yourself, we’re going to mention football.
One thing we learned from our years watching that soap opera-cum-sport is that a goalie should ‘make himself big’ when a forward is bearing down on him. The purpose of this is not, as you might think, to ward off predators. It is so that it’s harder to get the ball past him.
Goalies do this when the forward is so close that they wouldn’t have time to react to a shot. At this level of proximity, their body is basically just a static target, so bigger is better. There are similarities to fielding at short leg and Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Thirimanne seems to adopt a similar philosophy.
England’s second innings turned on a lucky catch that few other fielders would have been in a position to take. Matt Prior clipped the ball to what would have been Thirimanne’s right at short-leg if the fielder hadn’t predicted where it was going, shuffled across and ‘made himself big’. The ball hit him in the midriff and then he caught it.
This seems flukey, but something similar happened in England’s first innings. On that occasion, Ian Bell was not out because the ball rebounded off Thirimanne’s helmet into the keeper’s hands and you can’t be given out if the ball comes off protective equipment. Even so, Thirimanne had again shuffled across, predicting the direction of the stroke and made himself big.
In football, this is a sensible ploy, because your primary aim is simply to block the ball. In cricket, it is less likely to result in success, because the ball still needs to be caught, but it is also fraught with danger. Footballers are complete pansies and play with a soft, light ball. A cricket ball is more like a half-brick and no-one wants a half-brick in the nads.8 Appeals
Samit Patel’s cricket statistics are being weighed against his vital statistics even more frequently of late. Is he fit enough for five-day cricket?
It’s an interesting question, but we’re actually more interested in how the other England players cope. Even if Patel plays, we can’t see a debutant playing the decisive hand in this series. You’d bet on a more familiar player having the greatest impact, but will any of the England players be able to excel in the heat and humidity?
The series seems likely to be about players battling their own limitations as much as the opposition and it’s a hell of a shame that there will only be two Tests. The cumulative effect of day upon day of hot, sweaty misery really starts to tell in a longer series and it’s intriguing to see which players are left standing towards the end.
It’s almost like a cycling stage race. Chris Boardman was an exceptional cyclist, but faded in longer races like the Tour de France where you have to race day after day. Some of England’s cricketers are going to fall by the wayside in the next week or so and that’s part of the game.
The longest format tests resolve, adaptability and resilience. Sometimes it’s about playing as well as you can when you feel like shit. Feats delivered in that context win our admiration more than a quick bout of fairweather boundary-hitting.7 Appeals
The Test world is a baffling place right now. There’s more uncertainty than when the cat finds himself equidistant from some food and an open door.
Australia are worse at home than they used to be, but India are worse away than they have been in recent times, so what does an Australian win mean?
India’s batsmen collapsed. Are they old? Are Australia’s young bowlers really good? Or did the pitch deteriorate? After all, Australia collapsed too. Then again, they often do at the minute, most notably against South Africa – although that’s hardly surprising because the Saffers have such a strong pace attack.
Or do they? Pitches there have been greener than a seasick parrot in recent times, but the bowlers haven’t outdone their opposite numbers. South Africa drew 1-1 with Australia and are currently 1-1 with Sri Lanka as well. Maybe it’s the batting that’s letting them down. Maybe it isn’t.
Sri Lanka themselves were comfortably beaten by Pakistan. Most people concluded that Sri Lanka were struggling, but maybe Pakistan are amazing.
The good news is that Sri Lanka play another Test in South Africa, while India will play three more Tests in Australia, which should help clarify some of this.
That bloody two-Test series between South Africa and Australia is where all this uncertainty came from. It raised questions and answered none. In cat terms, it added a comfy bed to the food-and-open-door situation, leaving us in a pain-faced, miaowing, triangular limbo.5 Appeals
A lot of the life seems to have gone out of Sri Lanka since Murali’s retirement. On the face of it, the team’s much the same, but there’s a wrinkling and lack of solidity about them. They’re like yesterday’s balloon.
They haven’t shown much heart according to Russell Arnold. Maybe that’s because they haven’t been paid. A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. Anything else saps the will a bit, no matter what other motivations you might have.
So where worse to play than South Africa, where dismissals are pleasingly frequent these days? All out for 180 isn’t even particularly shameful by current trends over there. It’s not good, but we’ve seen worse and South Africa aren’t threatening a giant lead.
When we say ‘giant lead’ we mean how many runs more than Sri Lanka they’ll score. We don’t mean an oversized leash for Will Jefferson.6 Appeals
It’s nice to see bowlers being decisive in a Twenty20 match. Far too often they might as well just glue different mugshots onto a bowling machine and use that instead.
In the Champions League final, Mumbai successfully defended 139. For a large proportion of the match, the commentators were talking up Chris Gayle and how amazing a Twenty20 batsman he is. Gayle is amazing, but he specialises in hitting sixes slightly more frequently and slightly more reliably than other six-hitting batsmen. It might seem like he’s the perfect Twenty20 player because of that, but even the sport’s ball-whoppiest format presents different challenges from time to time.
Gayle was actually dismissed by Harbhajan Singh, who finished with the best figures (3-20), but it was Lasith Malinga who stood out, not least because he’d also seemed like a monumental stumbling block for Somerset in the semi final.
In that match, the Zoidermen had needed 29 runs from 18 balls, 12 of which were to be bowled by Malinga. Based on how he was bowling, they basically concluded that they needed to score 14 off his two overs and 15 off the other, no matter who bowled it. Some have been at pains to stress the importance of James Franklin’s performance, but we’d give half the credit for that over to the Malinga-enforced run recalculation.2 Appeals
We haven’t seen today’s play in the first Test between Sri Lanka and Australia, but having seen yesterday’s we’re opting to be quietly impressed rather than blown away by Nathan Lyon’s debut, despite the fact that he took 5-34 in Sri Lanka’s first innings. Why? Because he is bowling on a good pitch.
There has been a spate of good pitches recently – a few in England and a handful in the West Indies. It’s good to now see one in Sri Lanka, where pitches can sometimes be as threatening as a massage.
Test cricket is all the better for this development, because games are progressing. You actually have to keep checking the score. For example, Australia have lost a wicket while we’ve been typing. Just as importantly, better batsmen thrive while mediocre ones depart as rapidly as a guilty rocket.
When Mohammad Sami can Anil Kumble for six, Test cricket loses a little of its lustre. Let’s have no more of that crap.21 Appeals