IF EVER cricketing authorities around the globe needed confirmation of the importance of a fair pitch for both bat and ball, this Test match at Lord’s has proved it.
Not even the early clouds and skirmishing showers yesterday could make the ball move and the batsmen be fearful for their wicket. The bowlers were nothing more than servants for any batsman who got in.
Thankfully the one who benefitted most from Sri Lanka was Kumar Sangakkara. His century lacked flourish or the “gasp” factor so beloved of modern celebrity but it was fully deserved for a career that is frequently overlooked. He is and has been a wonderful performer across all formats. He has been a losing finalist in a World Cup and only recently became a winner in the World T20 when this generation of Sri Lankan cricketers finally won a global tournament after so many near misses.
Now he is on the much fabled honours board in the dressing room at Lord’s and his innings was the only highlight on a turgid day. It was a surprise when he was dismissed in the final session, an edge to a wide short ball giving Moeen Ali his first Test wicket. This success should not convince any, however, that Ali is anything other than a batsman that bowls a bit.
He is a decent tweaker of a ball in county cricket but at best in international cricket his role should only be as a second spinner or a few overs during the day. He is not anywhere near a frontline bowler and both Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene showed that. They eased the ball around the field and occasionally whacked him over the top for a boundary. It was sweets-from-kids type stuff and showed just how important the retired Graeme Swann was to England. How do they replace him? Steve Borthwick and Adam Riley from Kent must be developed swiftly.
Not that a battalion of extra bowlers would have made much difference. Both sides have accumulated runs far too easily as the pitch is too slow. The curious thing was the lack of swing found by the England seamers and with the outfield so green there was little prospect of any reverse swing. Chris Jordan was erratic although has the lucky knack of taking wickets and Liam Plunkett tried desperately hard and kept good pace in each session but endured a most frustrating day.
His recall was a good and bold selection as he has been hostile in county cricket but too many wickets like this and he will slide back to domestic cricket a broken bowler. His success came in the evening sunshine when Prasanna Jayawardene leg glanced to Ian Bell at leg slip. The catch was fantastic but it is not a preferred way for a nasty fast bowler to get wickets. His well-directed bumper to Nuwan Kulasekara overs later was, though, except Anderson dropped the catch running around to square leg. Every catch has to be taken on such moribund pitches and the only way this match will be anything more than a soulless and boring draw is if there is a collapse on either of the two final days.
That will suit Sri Lanka and their captain Angelo Mathews. Having conceded in excess of 550 after winning the toss and bowling, he was hoping his batsmen would ensure he was not embarrassed. He was at the crease himself when the follow-on target was reached and could complete a century in the morning. He batted very sensibly and ensured whenever there was a slight chance that England might break through decisively that he remained resolute.
For England there was much to learn. The bowlers never wavered or flagged despite the back-breaking effort needed and all will be aware of the different plans needed on such flat wickets. Bumpers and yorkers are vital rather than the old-fashioned line and length.
The day, though, was Sangakkara’s. He has always been a highly respected adversary, has represented Sri Lanka with great dignity over many years and is one of the most articulate advocates for the game around the world. It is fitting that he finally graced the most famous of grounds with an excellent century.