June 14, 2002

Bad light and rain end second day at Old Trafford with England in charge

Only 117 minutes of play were possible at Old Trafford on the second day of this Test, but that was long enough for England to consolidate their position by moving the score along to 377 for six when sepulchral gloom enshrouded the ground as a precursor to a deluge of Biblical proportions. Alec Stewart was on 57, while Mark Butcher's innings of 123 was cut short by an lbw decision and Andrew Flintoff was run out backing up at the bowler's end when a Stewart drive was deflected onto the wicket.

Play did not get under way until two o'clock because of heavy overnight rain that persisted well past the scheduled start time. In fact, it was still drizzling when the players took to the field with England resuming on 273 for four. The outfield was slower than on the first day because of all the rain, and there was a suspicion that Butcher was not timing the ball quite as well as he had on the previous day.

There was no problem with the stroke that brought up his fifth Test century. He clipped Chaminda Vaas down to fine leg for his 14th boundary and immediately began his celebrations. Having got another century at Lord's and 94 at Edgbaston, this just confirmed that his innings of a lifetime against Australia at Headingley last year was by no means a fluke and he can now expect to score consistently at this level.

After an hour's play, more rain sent the players off again and when they returned at 4.40, Butcher's excellent innings was ended by a second lbw appeal in consecutive balls. The first impression was that the ball from Vaas was too high, and later television analysis showed that it was missing leg stump as well as being too high. Umpire Dave Orchard did not see it that way and Butcher became the 199th victim for the Sri Lankan bowler in Tests.

The Old Trafford crowd warmed to the prospect of seeing Flintoff batting on his home ground with 354 on the board. However, he had no chance to reward their optimism when backing up at the non-striker's end. A drive from Stewart was deflected onto the stumps and Flintoff could only look ruefully towards the sky.

As he did so, he would have seen the gathering storm clouds, but there was time for Stewart to complete his fifty with a glance off the bowling of Muttiah Muralitharan that, in itself, would have given him great pleasure. It was his eighth four, while the ninth - swept high towards mid-wicket - came from the very next ball which was only the 62nd he faced.

The loss of time and England's dominance of what play there has been in this Test has done nothing to suggest that Sri Lanka are likely to win this match and square the series. On the evidence of some of the fielding on view and their general demeanour, it appears that is the way they read it as well.