When Sri Lanka look back at this Test series, the number they may well call to mind won’t be the 119 Kumar Sangakkara scored in rescuing his side from defeat on another rain-shortened day at the Rose Bowl.

It won’t be the magnificent 193 new captain Tillakaratne Dilshan made on his way to breaking the record for the highest total by a Sri Lankan batsman at Lord’s.

Nor will it be the 112 runs made by keeper Prasanna Jayawardene, who has been as quietly impressive with the bat as he has been with the gloves in this series.

No: the number which will prove of most significance, which will cause them the most pain and upon which their 2-0 series loss to England can be traced, is 24.4. This was the amount of overs the Lankans lasted in their second innings at Cardiff, and this was all the time it took to bowl them out for 82.

It may be reductive and over-simplistic, given there were other factors at play – a lacklustre bowling attack incapable of taking 20 wickets, and 369 overs lost during the series due to appalling weather, to name only two.

But to a team already burdened by the machinations of cricket board and government, with two of its veterans in Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene resigning their captaincy and vice-captaincy positions and a subsequent “difference of opinion” with Sri Lanka Cricket regarding the timing of their arrival in the UK from the IPL, their woeful collapse at Cardiff meant the difference between drawing the series and losing it.

England have a strong, established batting line-up and it was always going to take something special for a bowling attack diluted through retirement, injury and plain inexperience to make inroads into it.

No one seriously expected the visitors to win this series, and critics wrote them off after Cardiff with the view that this was a hiding they would never come back from. In truth, they showed more fight than some were willing to give them credit for. Sangakkara’s last day Rose Bowl ton, backed up by gutsy contributions from Rangana Herath and Thilan Samaraweera, showed the underdog may have been limping badly, but was not ready to lie down and die.

England, albeit helped by a green, seaming Rose Bowl wicket and a returning Jimmy Anderson, constituted simply too terrifying a prospect with the ball for Sri Lanka’s batsmen: Mahela Jayawardene in particular looked extremely uncomfortable against the aggressive pace and bounce of Chris Tremlett, with a few raps to the fingers for his pains. Stuart Broad predictably bowled better once he was made to relinquish the new ball, showing both a canny psychological nous on the part of the England management, who must have guessed he’d be stung into keeping a more disciplined line and length, and also a praiseworthy and obvious realization that Tremlett is by far the more effective opening partner to James Anderson.

What also will not be forgotten is the downright bizarre nature of this series. As England’s first Test series since winning the Ashes, it was always going to be underwhelming, but with the combination of rain and rumours of Sri Lankan dressing-room discontent at Sanath Jayasuriya being foisted on the team for Saturday’s T20 and the first ODI, it was easy to feel cheated at not being able to see the Sri Lankan team at their best.

England performed sometimes adequately and at times superbly to win the series. Today they seemed a little flat in the field, and as often happens, once it became obvious that the opposition were digging in it was as if they became resigned to having the game dictated to them rather than maintaining the intensity needed to force a win.

Perhaps the rain, the fact Broad and Tremlett were carrying slight niggles, the fact they were 1-0 up, and the strangely low-key atmosphere were to blame for this lull in England’s attack. It is not a luxury they will be able to afford against India.

Andrew Strauss, after England’s comprehensive defeat by Ireland at the World Cup, said that England always raise their game against stiffer opposition. This piece of self-reassurance came a crashing great cropper against Sri Lanka in the quarter finals. Strauss will now take time out to work on that left-arm seam weakness for Middlesex, and the ECB have come to an arrangement with Somerset that Strauss will play at Taunton against India in July’s tour match. Some of the more level-headed commentators are cautious in treating Strauss’s technical difficulties as a full-blown malaise, though I do wonder whether Kevin Pietersen, with his glorious knock of 85, felt free to play at his ebullient, confident best now that the press are no longer focusing on him.

Infuriating, bizarre, underwhelming, anticlimactic. While Sri Lanka will probably look back at that innings in Cardiff and cringe, perhaps they will just prefer to blank it from memory altogether. With a fighting spirit still in evidence, the return of Lasith Malinga, a return to a format they are acknowledged masters at –  and with maybe a few breaks in the weather – hopefully the upcoming ODIs will help them do just that.

Leave a Reply