England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Lord's, 3rd day June 5, 2011

Saker left frustrated as England fluff their lines

The inconsistency of England's quick bowlers didn't please the bowling coach as they allowed Tillakaratne Dilshan to hit 193

As the drizzle closed in during the afternoon session, there was plenty opportunity for Sky to trawl their archives, and one match in particular seemed pertinent to this situation. At The Oval in August 1998, England looked to have their destiny under control when they posted a hefty 445 in their first innings. A hard-hitting opener had other ideas, however, and once Sanath Jayasuriya had finished battering a stunned attack all across South East London, Sri Lanka had secured a first-innings lead of 146, and a day and a half to turn the screw.

At that point, however, the analogy starts to peter out. No matter how much of a lead Sri Lanka may yet secure in this Test, and despite their astute selection of five bowlers, they lack the mesmeric genius of an individual such as Muttiah Muralitharan, while England - regardless of the setbacks they've suffered in the past few days - are batting with a confidence that surely would not permit such a meltdown. Nevertheless, weather permitting, there's still enough time for England to face an awkward Cardiff-style final day, especially if they continue to ship their runs at close to four an over.

It's been a long old while since England bowled this badly in a Test match. Even at Brisbane in the opening Test of the Ashes, the 307-run stand between Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin was mitigated by an intense discipline that stretched their partnership across the best part of 100 overs. And this time last year, when Bangladesh's Tamim Iqbal appeared at times to have England's number, their unwavering faith in "the right areas" eventually sealed four Test wins out of four. At no stage in either series did England's line of attack waver to the extent they did today, a fact that David Saker, their bowling coach, conceded at the close of play.

"Over the last 12 to 18 months we've set extremely high standards, and over the last two days we've been nothing like those standards," said Saker. "For the first time, I'd probably say there are some technical issues there. I've never seen this team bowl so many balls down the leg-side, and Matty Prior had a hell of a hard job over the last two days wicketkeeping to that. That's usually a sign bowlers are falling over and not jumping straight enough through the crease. We might have to address those [issues]."

The performance of Steven Finn has made for particularly painful viewing, not least for the England management who had trusted his temperament and potential, and backed him in this match to recover from his axing in the Ashes. Instead of slotting straight back into the zone, he served up arguably the most wayward performance by an England youngster since Liam Plunkett bowled himself out of Test cricket at Old Trafford in 2007, before his best spell of the match was curtailed by the rain.

"Finny did a lot of good work with Kevin Shine and Richard Johnson after the Ashes, and came back and was looking really good - so we had no hesitation putting him in the team," said Saker. "We thought he would do a really good job, and I think he was pretty anxious to do that after the Ashes Tests. But he showed some really good rhythm in that last hour - so we walked off the ground feeling a little bit more buoyant."

As in Plunkett's case, however, Finn was not alone in his struggles, because his senior partners also forgot their side of the bargain. Steve Harmison had a shocker in that contest against West Indies four years ago, and today it was Stuart Broad who fluffed his lines - and lengths - as Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene clobbered him at close to five an over. Certainly there was none of the painstaking support that Broad had provided to James Anderson in that Gabba contest, when his 33 wicketless overs leaked just 72 runs all told.

Anderson's absence has been felt for so many reasons, but not for the ones that would have grabbed all the attention. His skiddier line of attack and movement both ways through the air and off the pitch might well have provided something else for Sri Lanka to think about, other than intermittent splice-rattlers from Chris Tremlett and his beanpole cohorts. But more importantly, his stump-to-stump discipline and control with the new ball are the factors that have really gone astray in this game.

"What we usually have done is bowl well together, but we didn't seem to do that, and that's probably the most disappointing part," said Saker. "We think we've got a really good crop of fast bowlers, not just here but back-up ready to slot in, but losing your leader with the ball is always going to be hard. Jimmy in particular has been outstanding. We expect him to bowl his first 16 overs for 30 runs, and that sets the scene for us to really attack with the other bowlers.

"We're hoping to get him back, but I don't think we should be hiding behind Jimmy's absence here," he added. "We should be better than that. We set higher standards, and just to lose one player and bowl the way we did ... I don't think that's excusable. The wicket was quite flat - we've scored 480 on it, so we knew it was going to be hard work. But we knew Dilshan was going to bat that way; we've seen enough of him to know that he can be a difficult man to get out and can take the game away from you really quickly."

Anderson has announced his readiness to return to action at the Rose Bowl, but between now and then England have two days in which to guard against further hiccups. There was a definite sign of improvement shortly before the weather closed in, as Tremlett squashed Dilshan's thumb for the third time in the series before Finn followed up with a good-length ball to bowl him. But with their pride back intact after the horrors of Cardiff, Sri Lanka are unlikely to settle for anything less than a first-innings lead, especially with Jayawardene hunting his third century in as many trips to Lord's.

"We are a bit disappointed the rain has come here, otherwise there would definitely be a result in this match," said Dilshan. "We need a result because we are already 1-0 down, and we came here to win, because there's no point in coming for a draw. If it doesn't rain, we [should] pass England's score, bat one or two sessions tomorrow, get a lead of 100 to 150 runs, and put pressure on England's batting."

It's all a remarkable turnaround from the events of the start of the week in Cardiff, though Dilshan was proud to reiterate his faith in the players at his disposal. "You can't say after 25 overs we are a bad batting line-up," he said. "We have a lot of experience in Sanga, Mahela, Thilan [Samaraweera] and myself. Forget about everything that happened in Cardiff. We came here strong-minded and played our brand of cricket, and proved here we're still strong enough to play good cricket. We're really happy with the last two days."

Saker, understandably, was less chuffed, and admitted that the ease of the Cardiff win might have had some underlying effect on the attitude of his attack. "The danger for a cricketer is disrespecting the game," he said. "When you have good days, you sometimes become lackadaisical. If you do that in this game, it has a habit of biting you on the bottom pretty quickly.

"It's more a sub-conscious thing," he added. "When you're bowling a side out for 80, you think it's just going to happen again. Cricketers, and people in general sometimes, take things for granted. I don't think we did that; I just thought our execution wasn't as good as it has been, and the opposition played very well."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 6, 2011, 20:08 GMT

    As a rebuttal to bigwonder's assertion that Test cricket is a fading sport, I'd have to say that really depends one where you are. Tests in England and Australia remain as popular as ever. Viewing figures are low in England as Tests are televised only on subscriber satellite, Sky TV.

    Everywhere else, it's losing ground - no doubt driven by the increasing emphasis and money poured into the T20 contests in particular.

    Blanket statements that Test cricket is dying are one-eyed and unhelpful. My own thought is that 50-over cricket is the main sufferer at the hands of T20 - the English counties no longer have a 50 over format competition. I've heard that the 40 over contest that replaced it is very entertaining, as it reduces that dull patch in the middle where neither bowlers not batsmen attack. I can't say, having seen little of it.

    To get back OT, the main sufferers under this heavy workload are the fast bowlers - they simply have to be rotated and spared from some formats entirely

  • Andy on June 6, 2011, 17:09 GMT

    This test is the perfect example of why I think England need to select Ajmal Shahzad. Sri Lanka wouldn't have found it so easy to get to 280-1 if he was bowling reverse swinging yorkers at 93mph. In his 1 test so far, he got match figures of 4/63 then got dropped!

    To be honest, as soon as I saw Broad, Tremlett and Finn selected, I knew that the bowling attack didn't have enough variety in it. Broad has to be dropped for the rest of the summer and work on his bowling in county cricket, as 32-5-125-1 and a test match bowling average of 35+ isn't anywhere near good enough with some of the guys who are waiting to take his place.

    Even when Finn bowls badly, he gets wickets, Broad doesn't. Therefore, I think we should either replace Broad with Shahzad, or Pietersen for Shahzad, and go for 5 bowlers with Broad batting at 7. Broad/Swann/Shahzad/Tremlett/Anderson looks like a pretty good bowling attack to me.

  • joel on June 6, 2011, 17:02 GMT

    yorkslanka , finn allready is a big man , hes 6 foot 7 inches tall mate . Have you ever watched glen mgrath bowl or curtly ambrose . Both of them were really kind to tail enders , NOT !!

  • Dummy4 on June 6, 2011, 17:00 GMT

    Englands bowling has been shocking. I feel really sorry for Prior in all this. Loads of comments bout the number of byes - but Finn and to a lesser extent Tremlett have been wanging the ball down legside that much I began to think they had swapped Saker for Sreesanth as bowling coach. 8 overs in today and Gower asked Bumble "How many would have hit the stumps?" Bumble correctly guessed "None" and he was right, worse still 30%+ were wide outside leg stump. If my under 15's were that wayward in village cricket I'd drop them. Shocking bowling - the worst I've seen since Caddick got the yips in the mid 90's.

  • Martin on June 6, 2011, 16:11 GMT

    Sorry - let let me rephrase that; for T20 insert "IPL".

  • Martin on June 6, 2011, 16:03 GMT

    When the Three Billy Goats Gruff went out walking they encountered a Troll under the bridge.... Wembley Stadium is empty more frequently than Lords - does that make football a fading sport? I think not. @bigwonder - the difference between T20 and Test cricket is bigger than the difference between Champagne and the Cork. You can keep the cork if you like. Enjoy.

  • Deleepa on June 6, 2011, 15:45 GMT

    So Sri Lanka got 450 odd runs because England bowled poorly? or the pitch was rubbish? Can't you for once give the batting team the credit?

  • Nilantha on June 6, 2011, 14:29 GMT

    interesting how finn suddenly becomes the big man trying to intimidate the no.11..didnt see much of that when he was bowling garbage down the leg side for the last two days....

  • Big on June 6, 2011, 14:15 GMT

    @5wombats, Thanks for proving my point. 4 to 5 total days of full stadium during entire test season/series/year does not constitute to be a popular sport. As I see, the test fans are hanging by straws and instead of making it more interesting by forcing tests to have results, they are just trying lame justifications. England bowlers have been bowling badly in 2nd test, 120+ overs in two days is exhausting and stressing for any bowler. If you look at the attendance at the stadium for the two tests, as well as dwindling TV viewers, you will might change your rubbish comment to accepting.

  • Dummy4 on June 6, 2011, 14:11 GMT

    I'm with Henrik Lovén - Broad is not currently good enough to be first change for England, let alone given the new ball. As a member of a 5 man attack, sure, no problem, but with only 4 bowlers, you cannot afford a bowler taking wickets at 35+ runs apiece AND going for 3.5+ rpo. His batting is also far too hit-and-miss. The success of England's attack over the last year or so has come from sustained pressure rather than individual brilliance, and he's letting that pressure off. The mentality about 'but he's a good bowler, look at the 5-fer he got in the Ashes in England' is much the same attitude they had with Harmison in his last years.

    One note about Finn - even when he bowls poorly, he gets wickets - he had 14 in the last Ashes from a handful of games. I note he's recovered to take 3 (as I type). Econ still too high, but he's still a newb at Test level.

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