England v Sri Lanka, Day One 1st Test, Lords' 2014Sri Lanka's Test series with England was hyped up during the past two weeks for all the wrong reasons. But it was hyped up all the same, much neededly too, for during a summer where England plays five tests with India, it should be appreciated that the Sri Lankan team is at least being noticed for being there as well.
Biggest of such controversies leading up to the series was Sachithra Senanayake being reported for a suspect action leading to Mathews whinging about touring "certain parts of the world", a special team meeting to console baby Sachi with a dinner to follow to boost his confidence, leading to the infamous "Mankading". Firstly, Sachithra does have a dodgy action. He doesn't do himself any good by wearing long sleeves either. Worst of all, he takes wickets. And nothing grinds a Pom's gears than a bowler with a dodgy action running through their batting line up. Ask Saeed Ajmal, or Johan Botha. Or just google "Muttiah Muralitharan". But Sachithra's dodgy action was reported once, when he was on tour in Australia with the Sri Lanka A team, and he was cleared. But the Poms always think they know better than the Aussies. Always. Secondly, the Mankading is legal. If it is legal and still against the "Spirit of cricket", the blame should go to the old men in maroon and gold coats at the MCC who wrote them in the first place. But ironically, just like Sachithra's action, its a dodgy way to get someone out. Dodgy, yet cleared by the law.
The other big controversy was England nicking Sri Lanka's World Cup winning coach, Paul "Graham-Ford-did-all-the-hardwork" Farbrace. Farbrace is well within his rights to leave the job, as any employee who hasn't signed a waver to stay for a particular period of time has a right to leave his job to get a better one. BUT, the bad part isn't him leaving, it's him leaving to ENGLAND, Sri Lanka's opponents in the summer. That's almost as cheap as Dayasiri Jayasekara joining the SLFP, two days before the nominations deadline. That argument about England questioning Sri Lanka's "Spirit of the game" should end here. Nevertheless, such controversies led to this series, which is actually just prelude to the real, proper English summer, getting some attention from the public, making it more significant than just another series for a Sri Lankan team with a mediocre bowling line up, trying to prove to the world that they can draw test matches outside the subcontinent with their batting.
With all the hype behind him, and as always with the burden on not knowing whether Sri Lanka's bowling attack could take 20 wickets on a pitch that doesn't turn square, Angelo Mathews won the toss and decided to bowl first. It wasn't a wise decision, but it was a smart one. At Lords' they say you win the toss, bat first and book-in for bed and breakfast, so as to say you would bat overnight till tea on the 2nd day and therefore the wiser decision would have been to bat first. But there was enough grass on the pitch for Sri Lanka to make a mockery of themselves if they opted to bat, and since it is less embarrassing to be bowled out for 180 on the 3rd morning, conceding a first innings lead of 320, rather then being shot out for 65 all out before lunch, the smarter decision was to bowl first.
Mathews' decision seemed to have paid off by lunch when England were 98/3 and when Eranga weeded out Ian Bell to make it 120/4, Sri Lanka were on course for making Angelo Mathews look like the smartest brown man to ever land on English soil after Mahatma Gandhi was there in 1888. But once the pitch started baking under the sunlight, and the bowl started getting older, Welegedara not playing to offer any reverse swing, and Herath unable to generate any turn, England in the form of Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Matt Prior piled on the runs, finishing the day at 344/5.
Sri Lanka will walk out on the second morning looking to break this partnership, but even if they do if they don't take wickets at regular intervals, they could be looking at a total of somewhere around 500, as Jordan, Broad and Plunkett are all batsmen who will score quick runs if they stay in. Sri Lanka's chances seem rather dim after everyone realized how good the pitch was for batting, and the only thing they could hope for is to emulate England's batting performance and try to force a miracle in the 3rd innings of the game.
Test cricket is a long patient game, where miracle happen more often than not and anything is possible until Sri Lanka are forced to follow on. If the test does end that way, all the hype that was created before the series would have been for nothing, but we'll have to wait for five days to find that out. So although cricket actually is a long and patient game, it also is a dodgy one; that makes you sit in front of a screen for six hours a day for five days and still end up with no result more than half the time.
Catch you tomorrow,