The final pole was taken with just a cherry to spare. But just as a snatched draw wouldn’t have erased England’s shoddy cricket from the previous day, so falling short shouldn’t negate the efforts of Moeen Ali and Jimmy Anderson. Jimmy was basically in tears when Mike Atherton tried to interview him afterwards, but he can comfort himself with the fact that most of us will remember his efforts just as fondly as if he’d seen the job out. Sometimes it’s about how you lose.
Jimmy played 55 balls in making the best duck we’ve ever seen. Moeen Ali played 281 and hit a hundred in the process. As first Test hundreds go, it was just about as good as you get.
Moeen batted proactively to lubricate a partnership with Joe Root that would otherwise have seized up, he marshalled the tail and he did it all with such profound unarsedness that you can’t imagine he’s ever been nervous about a single thing in his entire life. To take England from where they were in the morning to within two balls of a draw was immense. If you were wondering how he might respond to pressure, this provided a pretty clear answer.
It’s hugely annoying when people describe cricket in football terms, but in this instance it’s instructive (and also pertinent being as the action played out concurrently with a deathly dull World Cup match).
In football terms, the situation was this. There were going to be 60 more shots on your team’s goal, they had an outfielder between the sticks and if they conceded even once, it was 10 days’ play and 10 days’ efforts flushed down the khazi.
That puts the tension in perspective. In short, it simply could not have come about in ‘the beautiful game’. You might get 10 minutes of tension in football. In cricket, you can get an hour or more. As the minutes tick by, it becomes more and more intense until you start wondering whether it’s even safe to watch; whether there might actually be a physical risk to subjecting yourself to this.
Your hopes could be dashed by any delivery and being as number 11 will always be at the crease in these situations, the fragility of it all is even more pronounced. There are no short cuts to these sorts of finishes and that is precisely why Test cricket can never die.37 Appeals
Just because it’s only a two-Test series, it doesn’t mean you’re playing Bangladesh. This Sri Lanka side is a good one. If anything, it’s their achievements that are being devalued by the quality of the opposition. But they can only beat what’s put in front of them.
In this Test, it’s Angelo Mathews’ hundred that most stands out. Even when you’re only up against an ever-changing cast of toothless fast-medium bowlers, batting with the tail is difficult. It’s an amorphous puzzle where your goal oscillates between singles and boundaries and the field waxes and wanes constantly.
Working out what to do is exhausting if you’re in this situation for even a handful of overs. Angelo Mathews took Sri Lanka from 277-7 to 437-9. If that’s not enough, consider that up until now, Sri Lanka’s tail has been pretty damn wafty and ineffectual.
It was a titanic achievement. Mathews got the better of England for so long and so profoundly that they were beaten in ways we couldn’t even see until they came out to bat. While he was at the crease, we thought he was merely skinning the home team alive. Not so. It turned out the skinning had been carried out one-handed. Out of sight, his other hand had been violently whisking inside English heads, whipping up a veritable brain meringue.
“Mmm, that looks delicious,” said his bowlers.
And verily, they tucked in.31 Appeals
Our worst nightmare was probably the one where we had toothache and when the tooth came out, it turned out to be a kind of keystone for our entire skull. With a groaning, creaking sound akin to falling timber, our entire head split in two – ONLY WE DIDN’T WAKE UP.
Instead, we wandered around like that, noggin cleft in twain. We would occasionally reach up and run our finger across the shards of fractured skull, nervous that we might inadvertently gouge part of our own brain.
Today’s play has been worse than that.
It’s been worse than that because it’s been real. Ever-changing faces bowling the same fast-medium to partnerships that just go on and on and on. We’ve been here before – a long, long time ago – and we hoped never to return. Can you have endless permutations of the same thing? That’s what it’s been. This is why you should always play a spinner.
You could argue that England are playing a spinner, but unless the captain agrees with you, it’s a moot point. Alastair Cook was the very last person at Headingley to feel like maybe it was worth giving Moeen Ali a bowl. Apparently, he had a better plan, which was to just keep on persevering with the same old thing in the hope that finally, one day, something might change.17 Appeals
That’s a reference to something Shane Warne said late on day five.
“59 cherries left. Four poles to get.”
Okay, you’re Australian, we get it. Just speak normally, okay.
The cherry shortfall
Following the nine wickets down draw between England and Sri Lanka, it’s hard to avoid pointing to the overs lost due to slow over rates. We have two points to make about that.
Firstly, an over in the middle doesn’t exactly equate to an extra over at the end. Sometimes it’s the escalating tension that comes with the countdown that leads to mistakes. You still only get the same number of closing overs. It’s the flat, lifeless ones England could have had more of.
Our second point is that the flat, lifeless ones might have been enough. Shitloads of overs were lost in this Test. Okay, we just said that earlier overs are perhaps less likely to result in wickets – but not by that much. Another 10 or 15 overs is a hell of a number when you finish one wicket shy of victory.
Plus there was the declaration thing.
The pole shortfall
This was a very good draw in that there were a couple of chances in the final over, but we’d have to say it fell down in one key respect. If you want real tension, it needs to be protracted.
That’s what Test cricket can give you – the one-ball-away final hour with two incompetent dingbatsmen at the crease, edging and missing and cowering and surviving. This wasn’t quite like that in that the action came in an accelerating rush towards the end. It was exciting in a different way, but it didn’t really wring your innards like the very best finishes can.
Great draw though. In no other sport does that make sense.
Cook’s exciting field settings
We were going to give Alastair Cook a bit of credit for some nicely creative field settings on the final day. It’s easier to dick about when you’ve a stack of runs in the bank, but even so there was some real weirdness going on and it was most welcome. Sadly, he revealed in his post-match interview that they were all Jimmy’s doing.
Anderson of course cannot become England captain on account of his being a Northern bowler.19 Appeals
We spend about 40 per cent of our waking hours trying to work out which attributes we’d include were we to develop a stats-based cricket management computer game. For batsmen, there’d be things like patience and shot selection; for bowlers, there’d be fitness and accuracy. We’d also include ‘unarsedness’.
The key passage of play today was the partnership between Gary Ballance and Chris Jordan. One’s a debutant, the other’s a two-Test veteran and yet both seemed entirely unarsed by England’s eye-rollworthy position.
It wasn’t that the home team were throwing it away. They were just making a very poor fist of things. In fact it wasn’t even a fist. It was more like a limp claw. They seemed to be making a very concerted effort to entirely undo the few repairs they’d made during the first innings, during which the middle order had managed to emit a faint whiff of solidity.
Imagine Gary Ballance had scored 4 instead of 104 and that Chris Jordan had made 5 instead of 35 and now look at the scorecard again. That would have been a fairly normal outcome by recent standards and we probably wouldn’t have judged that pair too harshly either. The cricket watching public would have pointed their vast collective finger at Cook and Bell instead.
Ballance in particular has brought us back to a world where it’s not so ludicrous to assume that at least one of the batsmen might make a few runs in any given innings. He achieved this, at least in part, through having a very high unarsedness rating.17 Appeals
This latest England team is a stumpy. It’s not completely without tail – there’s an Anderson-shaped nub there – but there really isn’t much. Presumably, should he return, Ben Stokes would replace Liam Plunkett, which would only strengthen the main spine further.
Lower order batsmen rarely contribute on tougher days – when runs are more valuable – but they can definitely make the difference between decent scores and intimidating ones.
But if there’s any side unlikely to succumb to that modern panacea, scoreboard pressure, it’s Sri Lanka. They play most of their cricket in Colombo and have therefore been tempered to withstand far greater run pressure than any other team.
To Sri Lanka 575-9 is nothing to write home about. Whereas to most of us, anything over 500 is simply ‘loads’, the Sri Lankans probably distinguish between a 575 pitch and a 650 pitch. We’re not sure which they think this is.17 Appeals
Or listened to it. Or paid a bit more attention to the scorecard than we did. In which case, please could you leave some sort of pithy synopsis in the comments section so that everyone else can feel like they got something of value out of visiting this website today?
That’d be great. Cheers. It’s much appreciated and we promise we’ll start doing things properly again in a bit.
That timeframe again: ‘in a bit’.
Also, here’s a link to the Jos Buttler section of the site. We’d definitely have linked to at least one of these articles had we written something about the match ourself – probably the one about him batting at five, but we can’t be sure. Presumably at least one of them’s relevant in some way. You’ll have to judge for yourself.14 Appeals
But yet able to withstand heat in the manner of an O-ring fashioned from a Viton fluoroelastomer. Sri Lanka’s bowling was so efficient, it deserves to be described using mechanical gasket terminology.
The power of weirdness
This World T20 was another lesson for those who still believe that the shortest format is ‘all about power’. Some feel that England were always bound to fail because of some sort of biceps shortfall, but their biggest weakness was that they didn’t have weird enough bowling. Sri Lanka on the other hand…
Unlike in Tests, runs are the unit of measurement in limited overs cricket, but this Sri Lanka side haven’t reached final after final because they’ve got exceptional one-day batsmen. They’ve got some good ones, certainly, but they’re not match-winners. Overall, Sri Lanka are a pretty average batting side. They win because they generally don’t need to score as many runs as other teams thanks to their freakish and hugely varied bowling attack.
Sri Lanka’s best batsman
In the final, Sri Lanka’s best batsmen was Yuvraj Singh. That is unarguable. Kumar Sangakkara played well, but no willow-wielder did more to ensure a Sri Lankan victory than Yuvi. The sad fact is that this is distracting from one of the great one-day team bowling performances.
Yes, Yuvraj seemed like he’d never held a cricket bat before, but Sri Lanka exploited that masterfully. Batsmen often start scratchily, but then they somehow get one away and suddenly everything’s fine. However, Sachithra Senanayake and Lasith Malinga in particular managed to make Yuvraj’s scratchiness persist for long enough that it became ‘a thing’. From there, they just rode a wave of uncertain mishits, allowing their victim the strike, until Nuwan Kulasekara foolishly dismissed him.
But perhaps that wicket wasn’t a mistake. This might not sound credible if you happen to have seen Yuvraj’s innings, but perhaps Sri Lanka’s bowlers actually wanted to get him out. Why would they do this? What possible reason might they have had for wanting to sweep aside the batting depression and bring in a Dhoni front? Well maybe they wanted to make a point – for it was not just Yuvraj who struggled.
Not just Yuvraj
India basically have just one batsman who can come in and start hitting boundaries from the first ball they face and that is the perennially ace-shit Suresh Raina, a flawed batsman with a wonderful ability to take a swing. But no, this was a man’s job. Things were looking tough out there, so Dhoni made a big show of taking responsibility and moved himself up the order.
Intent on salvaging things for his team LIKE THE HERO HE IS, Dhoni promptly made four not out off seven balls, monopolising the strike in the process.
So maybe it wasn’t just Yuvraj. Maybe it was Yuvraj’s poor form coming up against an organised, skilled, well drilled bowling attack which just happens to include pretty much the finest death bowler to have played the game.25 Appeals
Growing up, our home town had one cinema, which had two screens. If you wanted to watch a film, you watched what was on. That’s the only possible explanation as to how we once found ourself watching Far and Away, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
Towards the end of the film, just as the plot was reaching its climax, the cinema lost visuals. The sound remained, but the picture went, returning some time later for about a minute of denouement.
No-one complained. Not one single person. Make of that what you will, Ron Howard.
We mention this only because today’s semi-final between Sri Lanka and the West Indies feels like the exact opposite of that. The Windies were well behind the run-rate, but that’s the way they pace a chase, counting on the Sammy factor to make up the shortfall in the last few overs. However, the match was rained off with our man at the crease, not having faced a ball.
Enter hero, music swells, film ends.26 Appeals
Minnows, upsets, India v Pakistan and the semi-finals already – this World T20 is getting the job done. And while some people claim that Twenty20 can be a lottery, you can make a strong case for the four remaining teams also being the four strongest.
Sri Lanka v West Indies
Darren Sammy is averaging a hundred in this tournament with a strike rate of 224. He’s managed to make an extraordinary impact in just 45 balls at the crease. Rangana Herath has played even less cricket but he too has made his mark. Bowling just 21 deliveries, he is currently averaging 0.60.
That sort of sums these teams up. Both seem like proper Twenty20 sides, chock full of weirdness and heavery. Neither gets too disheartened whether chasing a big total or defending a small one. We’ve no idea who’ll win, which is the way we like it.
India v South Africa
Insofar as any team can have reliable batting in Twenty20, India have reliable batting, but their bowling is more than doing a job in these conditions. Hardly anyone’s going for runs and in fact this is probably why the batting has appeared solid. They’ve been able to play within themselves.
For their part, South Africa have been uncharacteristically erratic. They’ve been generally underwhelming but with flashes of individual brilliance and appear to be working to Broad’s Law about only needing a maximum of two or three players to play well in this format. We’d bet on India, but unfortunately we don’t hold a position of responsibility within the BCCI and are therefore not permitted to lay wagers on cricket matches.12 Appeals