More overseas woe for Sri Lanka
At around 2pm, with dark clouds still blanketing the sky, the press box greeted the announcement that there would be 55 overs of play with hoots of derision. When it was mentioned that there would be a minimum of 15 overs in the final hour, even more laughter followed, prompting the announcer to defend himself. "I'm just conveying the message, don't shoot the messenger."
The press pack weren't the only ones expecting a dull draw. The fans in Cardiff braved the dismal weather over the past four days, and while there was never a full house, each day at least had a few thousand people in. On Monday, when the attention of Wales was focused on the football Championship play-off between Swansea City and Reading, only a few dozen showed up for what was shaping up to be a snoozefest.
Those staying away seemed to have made the wise choice as well, as Reading blasted two goals in eight minutes to launch a stirring fight back from the depths of 3-0. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, had had some early jitters, losing their openers but their two most accomplished batsmen, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, were seemingly killing off any further excitement in the match by calmly steering the team to tea.
The mayhem over the next hour and a half then was hard to explain as Sri Lanka were rolled over for their shortest innings in Test history. Sure, the England bowlers were hostile, but keeling over for 82 on a track where the home side had just piled on 496 for 5 defied explanation. The pitch hadn't suddenly become a minefield, there were three Sri Lanka batsmen meeting the Test gold standard of a 50-plus average and the opposition had only three specialist bowlers with Jimmy Anderson sidelined by a side strain.
Even after Mahela nicked one to slip, there wasn't too much alarm as the next man in was Thilan Samaraweera, a dour batsman who could be relied upon to grind out a two-hour defensive lesson. Instead of playing it safe, Samaraweera attempted an expansive shot off the back foot and chopped the ball on to the stumps for a nine-ball duck. That snapped any semblance of Sri Lankan resistance.
As the top-order floundered, there had been a debate over whether England should have declared overnight or used up a couple of overs to allow Ian Bell to complete his century. Should the team cause have come first or a minor individual milestone on a seemingly run-filled track? All that was rendered insignificant as Sri Lanka were blown away in glorious sunshine with 26 overs remaining.
What made the meek surrender even more demoralising was that the batting in the first innings was about the only thing that Sri Lanka could be happy about in the Test. Posting 400 even without their two star batsmen contributing had, on the face of it, vindicated a risky policy of playing five bowlers. The fielding was inept at most times, exemplified by a series of unathletic dives, and the worries over the bowling proved warranted as the attack lacked spark.
Now, they have the added dilemma of whether to shore up the batting and push Prasanna Jayawardene down to No. 7 or stick to a similar combination and demand that a curtailed batting line-up deliver.
Before the series started, Sri Lankan fans hadn't taken kindly to suggestions that their side are rank outsiders, pointing to their No. 4 ranking, one ahead of former champions Australia. Nor were they happy with talk that this series was just a warm-up for Andrew Strauss's side before the marquee one against India later in the summer as England set about achieving their goal of becoming the top side in the world.
For all the strides that Sri Lanka have taken in limited-overs cricket - runners-up in successive World Cups, and reaching at least the semi-finals of the previous two World Twenty20s - their Test record outside the subcontinent remains poor. They are yet to win a Test in Australia, South Africa and India, and a victory in a full series in England appears elusive. This tour seems unlikely to be the first step towards improving that reputation, with the interim coach and a new captain having only three days to revive a shell-shocked side before the Lord's Test.