'We'd run our race', admits Strauss
A lack of consistency cost England the right to push for victory in the second Test against Sri Lanka, according their captain Andrew Strauss, after five hard-fought days petered out into a draw on a docile wicket at Lord's.
Given England's recent run of form in Test cricket - which includes four innings victories in their last six matches, including a remarkable last-session triumph in Cardiff last week - Strauss admitted to a certain amount of frustration that they were unable to close out the Sri Lanka series with a game to spare. However, he conceded that at critical moments, his team lacked the spark and penetration of previous contests, adding that by the final afternoon of the match, they had "run their race".
"We didn't expect them to fold quite as they did at Cardiff, and they didn't on a flat wicket," said Strauss. "Over the last 18 months we've prided ourselves on just how consistent we have been as a bowling line-up. But the guys are not machines, and sometimes the rhythm's not there - and it's hard work."
England's realistic hopes of a result were thwarted on the second afternoon, when Tillakaratne Dilshan and Tharanga Paranavitana responded to their team's 82 all out capitulation in Cardiff with an opening stand of 207. In that period, and again on the third morning, England's seamers were as off-colour as at any stage in the past 18 months, with the bowling coach, David Saker, describing the number of balls down the leg-side as "inexcusable".
"We're not going to play the perfect Test match every time - we've got to be realistic about that - but the most important thing is we don't make the same mistake twice," said Strauss. "I was very happy with the way the guys came back and improved as the game went on, although it is always frustrating when a Test match ends in a draw, because you've put in a lot of hard work for five days."
The pick of England's attack, in terms of wickets, was the 22-year-old Steven Finn, who fought back from a wayward start to claim 4 for 108, and in the process became the youngest England bowler to 50 Test wickets. Despite that acclaim, however, his career economy-rate is close to 4 an over, and with James Anderson on the mend following a side strain in Cardiff, he could find himself back on the sidelines at the Rose Bowl.
"I think Steven Finn got a lot better as the game went on," said Strauss. "He'd been out of the side a little bit, so I suppose he had every right to feel a bit anxious at the start. But all our bowlers bring something different, and certainly Jimmy does with his consistent lines and swinging it a bit more than the others. We are very hopeful he'll be fit."
It would certainly be a surprise if the man to make way was Stuart Broad, whose recent appointment as England Twenty20 captain was an acknowledgement of his senior status within the England squad. Nevertheless, his record in red-ball cricket is becoming something of a concern, with his two wickets at Lord's costing 154 and coming at 3.75 an over. After 36 Tests, he still averages an unworthy 35.97.
Though Strauss defended his team-mate, he didn't deny there were concerns. "I don't think he's quite getting the rub of the green at the moment," he said. "He's bowled some very good balls that are passing the edge, and has probably bowled better than the statistics say. But all of us have to keep trying to improve, and make sure our performances get better."
That goes for the batsmen as well, not least Strauss himself, who made scores of 4 and 0 in his two innings and was nailed on both occasions by the left-arm seam of Chanaka Welegedara. He has now fallen to that style of bowling 22 times in his career, and nine in the past 12 months. With the excellent Zaheer Khan set to lead the attack for India later in the summer, Strauss knows he can't afford to let the problem spread.
"I was obviously frustrated to miss out twice on a good batting surface," he said. "But I think to some extent that's the nature of the beast as an opening batsman ... sometimes you get a couple of good ones early. But I obviously need to keep working and make sure it doesn't happen again at the Rose Bowl."
The final-day positives for England included the form of Ian Bell, whose 40-ball half-century on the final afternoon was the most fluent innings of the match, and an impressive display from Kevin Pietersen, who fell once again to a left-arm spinner, but not before he'd racked up a dominant 72. Given that he had started his innings in a no-win situation late on the fourth day, it was a satisfactory upshot in his quest for his former glories.
"It wasn't an easy situation when he went in yesterday, with dark cloud cover and the lights on," said Strauss. "Lord's does a lot more in those conditions, so he did have to graft pretty hard then. But he did that outstandingly well and then obviously came out the other side and played some lovely shots today. We always knew he was going to score runs at some stage, and we hope this is the catalyst to go and have a purple patch like Alastair Cook's having."
There was some criticism of England's intent as they built towards their eventual declaration total of 335 for 7, and by the end of the innings, the on-field events had been overshadowed by Matt Prior's run-in with the dressing-room window. Nevertheless, Strauss felt they could not have done much more to force the game.
"It was a bit tricky prior to lunch when the left-armer was bowling over the wicket into the rough - it was a bit hard to keep the momentum going, and we lost a little bit there," he said. "But we still scored at more than four an over, but I think it was always going to be a little bit hard to force a result on the final day here - because we know the Lord's wicket doesn't deteriorate.
"I just told them what I wanted us to get, and how many overs we had to get it - and we needed to bat pretty quickly. But there are always things in a Test match we could have done better. We hope we do that at the Rose Bowl."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo