Touring England’s never been easy. The conditions, for most overseas batsmen, are as weird and difficult as one of those early-Nineties computer games made by one slightly unhinged bloke in his bedroom. Nothing works how they expect it to and they search for a solution with no real certainty that such a thing even exists. The challenge is even greater nowadays when few players benefit from long stints in county cricket.
When Kumar Sangakkara first toured in 2002, he played three Tests, didn’t pass 40 and averaged 21. On his second tour, in 2006, he averaged 38.50 with a top score of 66. On his third tour, in 2011, he finally made a hundred, but pretty much no other runs and averaged 30.66. It wasn’t until 2014 that he finally cracked it, making a hundred and three fifties and averaging 85.50.
It takes a while.
Sangakkara was a half-decent batsman and he had it relatively easy as well. He didn’t have to face this current England attack. Snooty comments about the quality of this Sri Lanka team – and there have been many – show a real lack of comprehension of just what the tourists are up against.
Bowling well in England requires two main qualities. You need to find some movement – either swing, seam or both – and you need to bowl with enough control to exploit that. At this point in their careers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad do both of those things just about as well as anyone ever has.
There may have been better England bowlers, but in Tests taking place in England there have rarely been more consistent performers.
Touring England’s never been easy. In 2016, with these two at their peak, it’s rarely ever been much harder.
A daddy hundred’s anything over 150, right? Sounds about right. Graham Gooch should get in touch to correct us if we’re wrong.
Sometimes it’s not entirely obvious how you feel about a player until you’ve seen what they’ve done without actually watching it happen. We were out all day and when we thought to check the Test score, Moeen Ali had made a hundred. We were somewhat unexpectedly delighted by this.
Checking the score gives you a purer experience. You don’t get chance to come to terms with what’s happened. The facts just hit you and you’re forced to react instantaneously. Turns out we really like Moeen Ali.
We sort of feel pleased for Chris Woakes in a ‘good on him’ kind of way as well. There’s a bit less clarity on that one, we’ll be honest.
You often get the impression with Nick Compton that if it weren’t for media scrutiny, the doubters and his own desire to succeed, he’d be just fine. That would be some luxury though.
Test cricket doesn’t work that way. You don’t really earn a Test place. You earn the right to justify a Test place. And even then you always have to earn the right to keep it. When you’re on the fringes of the team, a borderline selection, the pressure is all the greater.
That’s the game though. That’s life. Nothing’s ever quite how you want it to be. It’s never a true pitch beneath sunny skies against a mediocre bowling attack with all your DIY jobs at home done and just the right beer in the fridge. More often than not you’re out of form, a bit pressed for time, have everyone on your back and need to find some way to get the job done anyway.
The stars never frigging align, so you just have to make the best of things. The car breaks down, the digibox stops recording properly, work commitments expand (or unexpectedly disappear). It’s always something.
Everyone gets derailed. Those who crowbar themselves back onto the tracks against the odds are the ones who make successful Test cricketers.
Granted, this is perhaps not one of the greater considerations when the powers that be are scheduling cricket matches, but surely we can add it to the long list of reasons why Tests should always start on Thursdays.
So, England eh? Chris Woakes. Durham. Sri Lanka. [Wanders off to get some chilli and a glass of wine].
If ever you want to form a pantomime horse with James Anderson, don’t expect him to dress appropriately the first time. Don’t expect him to get it right the second time, third time, or fourth time either. But give him a while. After nine years of equine double-arsedness, he might finally work things out.
That was how long it took him at Headingley. After nine years bowling from the Kirkstall Lane End to no great effect, Jimmy finally switched to the Football Stand End for this match and promptly took ten wickets.
As for his bowling, well, we covered that yesterday. And about 40 times before that. There really isn’t much left to say.
People often say of a spell that a bowler ‘looked like taking a wicket every ball’. It’s rhetoric. What they mean is that the player in question looked far more likely to take a wicket than you would normally expect.
So let’s word it differently. In his second spell against Sri Lanka at Headingley, every single James Anderson delivery appeared to have at least a 10 per cent chance of taking a wicket. He couldn’t control how the batsman reacted to what he created, but he did everything in his extraordinary power up until that point.
The weather was kind and the ball felt inclined to curve through the air. Anderson of course enjoys this. He translated the arcs of his mind’s eye into reality. First one way, then the other, the ball traced its satisfying bendy lines. As often as not, it pitched in the same spot, but despite that it beat the bat on either side.
What do you do? It was unfathomable for Sri Lanka’s lower order; an impossible task; like trying to kick away an ocean or stare out the sun.
Anderson’s fifth wicket, the tenth of the innings, was a shit one feathered to the keeper down the leg side.
About a year ago, we started getting milk delivered – you know, like how people used to back in the Eighties. No longer do we have to carry weighty flagons of milk in amongst the rest of the big shop; now it just materialises on our doorstep, as if by magic.
Milk usage is a hard thing to predict. It wasn’t something we were especially aware of back when we had one giant milk throughout the week, but now we occasionally find ourself lining up a trio of bottles or more in our fridge door. At this point, milk consumption suddenly seems a pressing issue.
Being pathologically disinclined towards ‘sinful waste’ our only course of action when this happens is to drink shitloads of milk. We wonder whether Jonny Bairstow might be about to do the Test hundred scoring equivalent because it rather seems like he might have a few backed up.
It’s reassuring when less established England batsmen start showing signs of being untroubled by county cricket. It makes you think that maybe they do stand a chance of doing well in Tests.
He also hit this six, which we still can’t get our head around.
Throw in a first Test hundred against South Africa during the winter and it seems likely that good form has become sufficiently prolonged as to be considered ‘class’.
Against this backdrop, it didn’t seem at all surprising that Bairstow should cruise to 140 against Sri Lanka today. Hopefully he still has a whole bunch of three figure scores just chilling in his fridge door, waiting to be extracted.
The received wisdom is that you don’t get wickets in Test cricket with dibbly-dobbly medium-pace. This is actually entirely accurate – but only because nobody picks dibbly-dobbly medium-pacers for Tests.
The truth is that dibbly-dobbly is tough for Test batsmen. Their net bowlers are 85mph, their bowling machines are 85mph. They’re grooved. They expect a certain pace and length and when it’s not quite fast-medium and nor is it spin, they like to edge it.
Dasun Shanaka purveys dibbly-dobbly medium pace (you always ‘purvey’ that sort of bowling). He isn’t really a bowler. He has taken 26 first-class wickets in 31 matches. Nevertheless, at one point he had three wickets for one run. Alastair Cook was dibbled, Nick Compton was dobbled and Joe Root was, er, medium-paced out.
We were out for the James Vince and Ben Stokes bit and will have to catch up with that on the highlights, but after that Jonny Bairstow did some whoppery. Alex Hales also started playing ‘his natural game’ after first adopting a classical opener’s approach – something which seemed to come entirely naturally to him to these untutored eyes.
Then it rained and David Gower said that this was to be expected in spring – almost as if he has gained no insight into the spring/summer British climate despite 40 years of his professional life being greatly influenced by whether it rains or not.
Maybe they will play a bit more later on, but we have to go and buy a smoke alarm now.