Despondent Sri Lanka slide between the showers
As grand unveilings go, the Rose Bowl's first day as a Test venue was an unavoidably low-key occasion. Hampshire's dismal morning weather did eventually give way to a pleasingly sunlit evening, the transition point of which was marked by a rainbow that seemed to emerge directly from the Gourmet Burger van on the concourse, but in between whiles just 38 overs out of 90 were possible. However, the fact that England were able to keep the game ticking along with four key wickets said as much about Sri Lanka's distracted mindset as it did about the improved intent of their pace attack.
Sri Lanka are not a happy outfit right now. That much could be surmised from the distracted performance of their reluctant captain, Kumar Sangakkara, whose flaccid waft outside off reduced his average in Tests in England to 25.06, and left him with one innings in which to avoid the worst series average of his 97-Test career. Neither he nor Mahela Jayawardene has managed so much as a half-century in the series to date, and given that between them they account for nearly 18,000 of Sri Lanka's Test runs, that is a shortcoming that seems certain to cost them the series.
"It comes as a bit of surprise because everybody at home would like to see Sanga and Mahela getting runs," admitted Sri Lanka's batting coach, Marvan Atapattu. "Sanga will be pretty unhappy seeing the replay of the shot he played, but I don't think the captaincy [is playing on his mind]. It's just that he made a decision when he gave up the captaincy, but now the country needs him to captain, and he's one of those guys proud to lead his country any time it needs him."
However, today was not the day for heroics from either former captain. For two men as universally respected as Sangakkara and Jayawardene, it beggars belief that neither man has been capable of sustaining their leadership roles for longer than two years apiece. "This is a job that ages you very quickly," said Sangakkara on the eve of the game, and his brief innings certainly gave the impression that his reflexes have slowed beyond repair, even though it is scarcely two months since he was cover-driving with aplomb in the World Cup final in Mumbai.
In the interim, however, both he and Jayawardene have spent time at the IPL in India, a tournament as far removed from Test cricket in early-season England as any cricket contest could be. The two men were the last of the Sri Lankan squad to join the tour (at the apparent insistence of their own board who had struck a deal with the BCCI) and played one warm-up game in Derby after concluding their captaincy stints at Deccan and Kochi respectively. Though Sangakkara appeared to find form with an innings of 153 against Essex last week, Atapattu still believed that their late arrivals were to blame for their ongoing rustiness.
"When you're in England the first thing that should happen is the adjustment," said Atapattu. "People coming from 50-over and then 20-over versions doesn't really help. It takes a bit of time, and you're in a country where your technique is going to be tested. It doesn't happen overnight; you need some time. This is why players need to get to a place like England, play a few practice games, get runs and get into Test level - because that's where you get the best of the bowlers."
In between the showers, the test that Sri Lanka faced today was arguably their toughest of the tour to date. Though Graeme Swann's wiles have yet to be called into the attack, the return of Jimmy Anderson brought with it the lateral movement that had been missing from both England's Lord's performance and the final-day meltdown in Cardiff, an occasion when panic and adrenalin respectively played more of a part in Sri Lanka's downfall than any excellence on England's part.
"It was impressive for Jimmy to come back in without any overs under his belt," said his fellow seamer Chris Tremlett, after Anderson's comeback for Lancashire against Worcestershire had been washed out prior to the Test. "Sixteen overs out of 40-odd is a hard job, and he hit his straps straightaway, so credit to him. It was great to have him back."
The hallmark of the new-model Anderson is his discipline in all situations. With more match fitness he might have torn Sri Lanka to shreds with his swing both ways on a juiced-up surface, just as he did against Pakistan in 2010, but rather than get carried away by the assistance on offer, he settled for containment first and foremost, seeping 24 runs in 16 overs, and relying on batsman error for both of his breakthroughs.
The net result was a Sri Lankan innings that never found any momentum, neither in the first 12 overs when Tharanga Paranavitana and the debutant Larihu Thiramanne ground out 23 runs for the first wicket, nor in the final hour, when Thilan Samaraweera and Prasanna Jayawardene salvaged some pride by adding 42 runs for the fifth wicket at less than three an over.
That alliance lifted the score to a palatable 81 for 4, but even on a stop-start day that prevented any sustained pressure from being exerted, it was clear that England had expected far greater rewards than they received. "We were a bit lacklustre with our lines and lengths," admitted Tremlett. "But even though we'd have liked to get a couple more wickets today, we didn't feel like we let them get away."
For Tremlett, who left Hampshire for Surrey in 2009 after a decade of service on the South Coast, the day was especially memorable in spite of the limited cricket. With his new club languishing in the Second Division this was his first chance to return to the county where his father Tim remains director of cricket, but the reception he received from the local crowd was as enthusiastic as you would hope for a player who has made such strides in recent months.
"I like to think I offered a lot to the county and gave the fans some good viewing at times," he said. "They gave me a nice reception and it was nice to see some familiar faces. Today was a great occasion for the Rose Bowl and for [the chairman] Rod Bransgrove, and though it's obviously a shame we haven't got a full day today, the fans were loud and seemed like they had a good day despite the rain. Me getting a couple of wickets will have made them happier."
As Tremlett spoke, a loud crashing of empty bottles being tipped into a recycling truck confirmed the impression that the party had pressed on in spite of all the setbacks. However, the mood in one section of the ground, the visiting dressing room, remains as black as the forecast for Friday's resumption.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo