Expect the unexpected

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!

3 Responses to “Expect the unexpected”

  1. Howe_zat says:

    One thing that’s not often mentioned about KP’s weakness is that he averages 42 against left-arm spinners over the last couple of years, as near as makes no difference to his batting average over that time.

    Sometimes he gets out for 3 like yesterday, sometimes it’s for 227 like the previous occasion. Sometimes it’s good bowling and sometimes it’s shit batting, sometimes it’ll be the ball bouncing off a passing UFO before getting him caught out. This is the way with Kevin.

    The one noticeable difference is that he’s faced vastly more left-arm spin in the last couple of years than previously, i.e. since people started talking about it, people have been trying to make it happen.

    If every international team there is spends all its effort to get KP out in left-arm spin, is it really an issue that they’re successful around 1/3 of the time?

  2. Howe_zat says:

    Wait hang on, the stat doesn’t even say it’s the same.

    Since 2009, KP averages 42 as I said, but his average against SLAs is actually 59…

  3. legsidefilth says:

    A problem that may have started out as a coincidence, snowballing into a self-fulfilling mode of dismissal due to increased frequency of facing left-arm spin due to a perceived weakness that may just be an overall dip in form… never has there been a more painful example of cricket being mostly played in the mind.

    It seems now to have gotten to the stage where KP says it’s not really a problem but is obviously perturbed enough by suggestions it may be one – to the extent of consulting Rahul Dravid, seeking out his old mentor Graham Ford, practicing against slow left-armers in the nets, etc etc.

    I was at Lord’s in 2008 when he scored his ton against SA and said afterwards that the standing ovation made him feel “so loved”. The applause seemed to go on forever; it was one hell of an atmosphere, real hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff. Just hoping he can channel the memories of that – and his Lord’s average of 60 – and rediscover his mojo.

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