Prior breaks pane, but series not exactly a cracker

It was a glove that “ricocheted”. It was a bat handle that “bounced off the wall”. It was, says the culprit Matt Prior, simply that the dressing room window “exploded” when he put his bat down next to the others.

Whatever the explanation behind the broken window at Lord’s, this was the story that dominated the newspapers the day after the 2nd Test against Sri Lanka meandered to a lacklustre draw, and with rain forecast for the Rose Bowl, this is one Test series that – one extraordinary collapse aside – has failed to fire the imagination.

From an England perspective, Lord’s was mostly about the negatives. The bowling was underwhelming: Stuart Broad was undercooked, while Tremlett and Swann did their best on a wicket that gave them nothing. Steven Finn’s line and length were, along with Jimmy Anderson, notable by their absence.

Things were slightly more encouraging on the batting front. Kevin Pietersen was out for a low score in the first innings – thankfully not to left-arm spin this time – but he did take the first steps on the tentative road back to form in the second to the tune of 72 runs. That KP may finally be crawling from the slough of despond in which he’s been neck-deep for the last year or so is a great sign, if only because folk might finally shut up about it.

But while we might finally be Shutting the Fuck Up About Kevin, tongues are now wagging over Andrew Strauss’s current susceptibility to left-arm seam, and the rather serious development whereby he seems to have forgotten where his off-stump is. Strauss relinquished the ODI captaincy to ensure his longevity in the Test format, so this is slightly worrying.

Speaking of ODI captaincy, the new man in the job, Alastair Cook (MBE) carried on carrying on, with yet another Test hundred to his name with an innings for the most part so funereally paced and utterly devoid of flair, I can’t remember a fucking thing about it.

If this had been Jonathan Trott, he’s have been lambasted for being too slow, and if this had been Kevin Pietersen, he’d have been howled at for being too selfish, given that Cook finally speeded up once he’d passed three figures. Whether or not Cook felt annoyed enough at getting out to a soft dismissal on 96 in the first innings and thus was determined to get his century in the second, only he can say – but if this isn’t the definition of selfishness, I don’t know what is, considering England had a Test to win. But then Cook isn’t South African, so that’s okay.

You can tell I’m on the fence about Alastair Cook – of course there is room in cricket for every type of player, and I am thankful for Cook’s current rich vein of form, but I cannot for the life of me understand why his stolid, tentative approach is deemed a virtue at the same time as Jonathan Trott is being beaten around the head with the “boring” stick.

There was one batsman at Lord’s who could certainly not be labelled boring, and that was, of course, Tillakaratne Dilshan, who probably decided that having to face the cameras in a post-match interview after one’s team is bowled out for 82 is an experience one would really rather not repeat, so, with an underdog’s rage, a captain’s heart and helped by some god-awful English bowling, he set about pasting the opposition to all parts on Saturday, which was the day I turned up – fortuitously, as it turned out to be the best day weather-wise.

Explosive in T20s and ODIs, only slightly more circumspect in Tests; Dilshan’s aggression always makes him a joy to watch.

Deprived of an option in the ballot this time around for a seat in the Mound Stand (comfier seating), I was in the cave that is the Lower Edrich, which has a great view of the middle but occupies a blind spot as far as the scoreboard goes, necessitating the use of guesswork, a portable radio, and keeping count in one’s head as each milestone approaches. Suspended from the roof above me was a hoarding commemorating Sidath Wettimuny’s 10-hour 190 in 1984 – the highest Test innings for a Sri Lankan batsman at Lord’s… until Dilshan decided it was going to take something epic to wash away the taste of Cardiff.

It was a long day in the field for England, and by the end of it the lads sitting behind me were simultaneously chanting demands for the Dilscoop as well as pleading hopefully for a wicket.

Dilshan hadn’t broken Wettimuny’s record by the end of the day but he was well on the way to it, being not out on 127 at the close.

Dilshan: more bounce than the England seamers

Dilshan: more bounce than the England seamers

There was to be no Sri Lankan collapse on the last day – a recurrence of Cardiff’s last day dramatics was unlikely, given visiting sides always tend to raise their game at Lord’s – but England are going to struggle badly against India if this is the best performance they can muster.

I dug out the Ashes 2010-11 DVD box-set the other night and re-watched Melbourne. Aside from that rush of nostalgia and recognition through having been there when history was made, I was conscious of watching a switched-on, aggressively turbo-charged England going for the jugular and with the exception of the last few Australian wickets to fall – a typical case of England easing off the gas when they look to have it in the bag – you knew you were watching a side at the top of their game and who were ravenous for victory.

At Lord’s against Sri Lanka, they looked like rather than going for the win, they just didn’t want to lose. Given India are taking their upcoming visit to these shores very seriously indeed – they have sent what is basically a second-string line-up to the West Indies due to resting their major players – and given Strauss’s current travails as a batsman, I suspect the spectre of Zaheer Khan and Co. looming over the horizon is not something England will be relishing.

And so to the Rose Bowl on Thursday for the last Test. The wicket will most likely be flat, and there will most likely be rain. Awesome.

Jimmy Anderson has been named in the squad after recovering from his side strain. His pre-Test workout was supposed to have been Lancashire’s recent rained-off T20 game, though how much 4 overs constitutes a workout of any usefulness whatsoever is highly debatable.

Finn will be the man for the drop; perhaps harsh considering that at Lord’s, in between overs of unutterable filth, he did take wickets, and did improve as the match went on.

I’ve already mentioned the new One-Day captain, but this was hardly a sparkling outing for the new T20 captain, either. Stuart Broad is struggling badly – he currently averages 35.97 runs per wicket – but he is English cricket’s Golden Boy and seemingly beyond censure. I don’t know why this is. He’s a good bowler when in form, but doesn’t seem to have the patience to want to wear batsmen down with McGrath-like, keep-it-simple, top-of-off-stump line-and-length bowling. He tries to be too clever, and often forsakes patience for aggression, occasionally leading to a chat with the match referee and the imposition of some negligible penalty. (McGrath was a far better multi-tasker, showing you could be consistent and a bastard and still take wickets.)

Every seamer should aspire to McGrath-esque precision-genius, but that is just me.

Finn: better than Broad?

Finn: better than Broad?

I know I shouldn’t write off the Rose Bowl, given I made that mistake with Cardiff. But Lord’s hero Dilshan will not be playing due to a broken thumb, and Sri Lanka seem to be regarding these Tests as a warm-up for the ODIs that follow.

That the ODIs promise to be a far more gripping prospect than the Tests sadly constitutes another nail in the coffin of the format all cricket boards should be hell-bent on protecting, but in today’s money-driven reality, it seems to be all about the saying, and not much about the doing.

Test cricket already seems to be marginalized. But again, that might just be me. Sometimes though, when faced with ODI series that never end, and T20 tournaments that proliferate like fungi, it feels like it, and a future without Test cricket does not really appeal to me.

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