England v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Rose Bowl, 1st day June 16, 2011

Despondent Sri Lanka slide between the showers

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

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.

When you're in England the first thing that should happen is the adjustment. People coming from 50-over and then 20-over versions doesn't really help
Marvan Atapattu on Sri Lanka's series preparation

"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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on June 17, 2011, 15:23 GMT

    @Ellis: It is more difficult for overseas players to get used to the English conditions than you think.The very same bowlers if they bowl in the Indian sub continent conditions, they will be thrashed let alone getting a bundle of wickets.English wickets and seaming conditions are unique and it takes time to get used to them. Let SL & India have a full 5 test match tour instead of sharing the season with hardly any practice matches.You will see a vastly different performance. Instead of getting out for 200, the scores will be in 400 + zone. Having said that SL batting is weak lower down in the order although contrary to your prediction, # 8, 9, 11 batsmen have already got 52 runs between them.India has a much stronger batting but they will struggle in English conditions because they have only one practice match before going into test. ICC should not exclude these results for World ranking because of unfair advantage to England compared to tests Vs. the Aussies, who get a full season.

  • FAISAL on June 17, 2011, 14:36 GMT

    remove the test status of lanka as they cannot win abroad series.request to ICC: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE arrange test matches in their home grounds only for lanka...other wise it will be one-sided whole match tournaments.... 101 % AGREE WITH @lijihas and kallagun.....

  • lijihas on June 17, 2011, 14:31 GMT

    after this series lanka should reach 9th or 10th... performance wise they are equal to bangladesh as they cannot win away matches... in away matches both these team are ordinary... they cannot win or make a draw with top ranked teams like AUS,ENG,IND,AND SA.....atleast try to learn from these teams how to play cricket....

  • Nimal on June 17, 2011, 14:10 GMT

    what a weather great for cricket!!! How can someone bat in this weather condition.. Play for 1 hour off the pitch play for another hour off the pitch... is it test cricket!!!! I feel sorry for the Sri lankan batsmen!!!

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2011, 12:21 GMT

    SL in dire straights again, paranavitana making a start and getting out AGAIN and sanga and mahela have both failed all series, furthermore as expected, broad bowled like rubbish, while tremlett and anderson were outstanding

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2011, 12:20 GMT

    England have had the best bowling conditions when they bowled and the best when they batted as well and asking a Sri Lnakan player to perform in conditons where the tempreature is somwhere below 15 degrees is quite a task. i had trouble sitting in the stands all wrapped up in Cardiff.

  • kalla on June 17, 2011, 11:15 GMT

    SL has won only 15 out of 60 overseas Test matches since Jan 01, 1997 - this is after being crowned "world champions". Most notable of those victories are just 2 wins in England and 4 against Pakistan. Rest are against BD, WI, NZ. Please note: NO VICTORIES against INDIA, SA, AUS!

    All the talk about character and what not for just this? Few days back someone claimed, I quote, "we are the best players of swing and pace from the sub-continent". LOL!


  • Michael on June 17, 2011, 10:22 GMT

    Miller should give up on the psychology and psychiatry. There is no evidence that the team is dispirited, nor is there an indication that Sangakkara is not trying his best. I think the IPL excuse is nonsense. Mahela and Sangakkara have been in England for quite a while now, have played there many times before, and know how to adjust. England know how to exploit the conditions and credit to them. Sangakkara played a bad shot, as did Thirimanne and Jayawardena. The poor form of Sangakkara and Jayawardena is accentuated by an extremely weak lower order from number 7, onwards. It takes a great deal of optimism and courage to forecast that those five batsmen will aggregate 30 runs between them in current conditions. This was always going to be a tough Test series for SL and it is proving to be so. However, there is still cricket to be played. Let's see how it goes.

  • chandana on June 17, 2011, 9:34 GMT

    LOL this sudden string of wins have given the poms a new lease of life. Lets rewind and see the early 1980s when they got white washed or is it black washed 5 zip by WI :) lmao c'mon guys asking the SL team to play at the start of the summer in cold windy wet conditions on grassy juicy pitches and expect them to win also?? and now that an era of greatness is over with the retirements of vassy murali and mali it will be another decade before a decent bowling attack can be developed. as for the people who say Sanga and Mahela cannot bat outside sri lanka , may be they need to look at the stats in australia and south africa against better bowlers for sure. Finally have to agree with MArvy, acclimatization is a must to play the moving ball.

  • P on June 17, 2011, 9:05 GMT

    @stormy16..."Ind/SA/Ind are clearly the leading pack" Is that the India A and B teams? Or are you suggesting they are twice as good as everyone else?

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