Archive for the ‘cardiff’ Category

Expect the unexpected

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

With a first day wicket so flat it looked like the proverbial road to nowhere, this 1st Test instead proved a considerably bumpier affair for the team that found itself on the losing side.

Because yes, in spite of the bore-fest of the first four days, some superb batting performances notwithstanding, this encounter that looked like dribbling to a stale, bloodless, rain-diluted draw ended up anything but.

The moral of this story seems to be, if you are an England fan and you wish to attend the Cardiff Test – only go on Day 5. The first four days will be shit. The last day will be awesome.

In the run-up to the Test the brickbats in the press were reserved for Sri Lanka’s bowlers, but it was the batting that ended up being steamrollered by England yesterday.

A first innings total of 400; England reply with 496 declared (big runs for Cook, humongous runs for England’s Bradman, Jonathan Trott, and a handy ton for Ian Bell) and Sri Lanka all out for 82: more wickets than you could shake a damp umbrella at – all of them in fact, courtesy of Messrs Tremlett, Swann and Broad and the whole thing wrapped up in 24.4 overs, albeit after another late start due to this horrible bloody weather that seems to be paying us all back for the temerity of enjoying an unseasonably early spring.

How much did this bring back memories of this same ground against different opposition in 2009, and how badly must Sri Lanka have hankered after their own Jimmy and Monty double-act?

The bowling by England was too good. Swann made use of the rough outside off-stump that had given Rangana Herath some encouragement, and England team-sheets should now come pre-printed with Chris Tremlett’s name on them as standard. The old days where the latter’s perceived lack of bottle was questioned seem now to be part of some ridiculous alternate reality.

Jonathan Trott continues to astound. I’ve made no secret of the fact I’m a big fan of the bloke, because one of the great things about cricket is that it can provide a happy hunting ground for the oddest of talented eccentrics, and Jonathan Trott surely numbers among them.

Aside from all his scratching and muttering at the crease, and his OCD dressing room habits, there is also something amusingly Hakkinen-esque about his interviews. The great Formula One champion Mika Hakkinen was famed for his laconic utterances and his deadpan statements of obvious fact, all with a barely raised eyebrow that put paid to accusations of a lack of humour or intelligence.

When Trott (unbeaten on 125 on his way to an eventual 203) was asked at the end of the third day what England had to do to win this match, he responded, deadpan: “Score more runs than they do”.

And that is what England did, to the tune of an innings and 14 runs worth.

And that with three bowlers. Jimmy Anderson has been ruled out of the Lord’s Test with a grade one side strain and Jade Dernbach, most likely due to his performance in the Lions match, has been drafted in to the squad – though I’d be very surprised if Steven Finn was not an automatic inclusion in the XI come Friday morning.

There’s been a degree of agitation about the prospect of yet another South African born player pulling on an England shirt – which some folks really need to get over – but it’s another man of South African origin and erstwhile our brightest star who is the real source of concern.

We are talking about Kevin – again. This is the 19th time in Tests he has fallen victim to a left-arm spinner and denying there is a problem will not make it go away. It is real and it is messing with his head and there is going to have to be a drastic resetting of his entire approach if he is going to fix it.

Even before Herath got him, as he tried wildly to chop the ball to the off side with the result that it rebounded from pad onto bat, his footwork had all the assuredness of a stricken animal scrabbling for purchase on the blood-slick floor of an abattoir before the slaughterman puts it mercifully out of its misery. It was truly painful to watch, with a messy, protracted denouement: the on-field decision of not out was overturned on review with the aid of hotspot, which showed a clear mark on the pad together with a side-on view that showed ball hitting back leg before bat.

Pietersen’s mind seems now so scrambled that even the most innocuous left-arm trundler must seem like the devil incarnate. Perhaps he needs to heed Jonathan Trott’s advice – to keep it simple – because these demons need exorcising, and pronto.

What a bizarre Test this has been. Seems I was a bit previous in writing off this match, but then I get the feeling I wasn’t the only one. I like it when cricket proves me wrong. I like it when Test cricket proves me wrong.

To Lord’s!

Enthusiasm: curbed

Friday, May 27th, 2011

If yesterday was a day shortened by rain then today was a very, very long one indeed.

Not just in terms of time, in that it went on till 7:30 to try to make up time lost due to yesterday’s weather, but also because it bloody felt like it.

Albeit on a pitch so flat you could slap white lines down the middle of it and call it an Autobahn, Sri Lanka managed to make exactly 400 without meaningful contributions from their two superstars, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. Wicket-keeper Prasanna Jayawardene in particular was quietly impressive, playing such a disciplined, unflustered innings that it was almost a shock to look up at the TV and see he was on 99. How the hell did that happen?

It was that kind of day. Maybe it’s the weather, or the underwhelming attendance figures at the SWALEC, but this barely feels like the first Test of the summer should. Even the fielding side could barely seem to muster any enthusiasm, with heads down, boundaries relinquished through sloppy fielding, and half chances going begging in slips and gully. I think my own reaction to the last in particular is telling – instead of shaking my fist at the telly with barely-suppressed rage and yelling something unrepeatable when Alastair Cook dropped a thick outside edge after tea from Perera off Broad, I could only sigh wearily and pine for the days of Collingwood.

It does not help that Cardiff is not really “coming to the party” when it comes to putting forward a case for being a Test venue. It passed its first examination, an Ashes Test in 2009 which gave it the inbuilt safety net that if any operational glitches occurred no one would mind too much as it was the razzmatazz and the on-field action (Monty! Jimmy! Bilal Shafayat and the Fat Physio!) that took centre stage.

This year, with pissing rain, a support act in terms of opposition (India being obviously this year’s main attraction) a flat wicket, a malfunctioning scoreboard and a flapping white cloth in lieu of a sight-screen, well, it’s all been a bit of an anticlimax, hasn’t it?

Tomorrow could very well be more of the same, given the strength of England’s batting (surely Jonathan Trott could ask for no better wicket than this one), though it was a good piece of bowling by Suranga Lakmal that did for Andrew Strauss in the day’s last over. Sri Lanka will be buoyed up by this, as well as with their performance with the bat, when they take the field tomorrow.

But if it’s a classic all-out head-to-head between bat and ball you’re after, the chances of that look exceedingly slim, and I can’t help but feel that this series will only really start once we get to the Big Smoke and Lord’s.

I’m sorry, Wales, but there it is.

Underdogs confound expectations

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

He may not smile like Pygocentrus nattereri, or scent blood, or sink his teeth into a bowling attack.

But Tharanga “Piranha” Paranavitana batted through a truncated first day of play in the First Test at Cardiff today to show that Sri Lanka are very far from the pushovers everyone expected them to be.

While opinion swam between “clear underdog” due to an inexperienced attack and “perhaps a slightly tougher opposition than first assumed” after the win when following on at Derby, it seems the consensus of most seasoned observers seemed to founder on the shoals of “a side that is expected to struggle” as the Sri Lankan seamer injury count escalated.

Granted, this was only the first day – and a short day at that, given that play eventually started at 3:30 due to persistent showers – but the fact that the visitors went to stumps on 133-2 may cause those who doubted them to re-evaluate their opinion.

Though really, why anyone would write off a team containing Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and newly-anointed captain Tillakaratne Dilshan seems to me as foolish as it is illogical, and the cricketing gods have punished better teams than England for such brazen hubris, though to be fair Strauss has paid the opposition all due respect in the lead-up to this match.

Granted, there is no mistaking the fact Sri Lanka have a long tail. Of the two men at the crease, Paranavitana and Mahela Jayawardene, only one of those has to fall for the Lankans’ prospects to look distinctly less rosy.

But this is the side that was blown away in their first innings at Derby, followed on and then bowled the England Lions out to win by 38 runs. The moral of this story could be: don’t put Sri Lanka in a hopeless situation. It only makes them angry. Already their dander will be up after Kumar Sangakkara was contentiously given out caught behind on review when arguably the evidence proved hardly overwhelming enough to justify it.

Paranavitana will resume tomorrow on 58, scored off 154 balls – a predator more than willing to wait and let the prey come to him than to squander his wicket for the sake of rash pyrotechnics. He has already amassed two centuries on this tour, and judging by the chat on Twitter today, a whole new host of fans.

Everything could yet go pear-shaped, but Sri Lanka can feel pretty pleased with their performance today.

I like it when reality confounds expectation.