England v Sri Lanka, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day June 15, 2014

Ballance ton shores up England


England 575 for 9 dec and 267 for 8 (Ballance 104*, Plunkett 2*) lead Sri Lanka 453 (Sangakkara 147, Mathews 102, Anderson 3-93) by 389 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Such had been the mastery of bat against ball at Lord's that few would have quibbled at the notion that Gary Ballance might complete the fourth day with a maiden Test century to his name. This Test surface has not been short of largesse for any batsman worth his salt. What would have surprised them was that he would have achieved it from a position of adversity after Sri Lanka briefly transformed the complacent mood of the first Test with a wonderful bowling performance.

The sight of Ballance reaching his hundred in the final over by hoicking Rangana Herath's left-arm slows over the advertising boards at midwicket re-established batting supremacy. Joe Root, Kumar Sangakkara, and Angelo Mathews earlier on the fourth day - all had busied the Lord's sign writer.

But shortly after tea, England has been precariously placed at 121 for 6, possessing a vulnerable lead of 233. It was the discrimination of his first fifty, helped in his task by an exuberant contribution from Chris Jordan, which told most of Ballance's substance as a cricketer. In only his second Test, his composure was striking. Only in the last half-hour did Ballance, comfortably proportioned and increasingly ruddy of face, extend his range in a delighted dash to personal glory, careering from 82 to 97 in six balls as the clock ticked towards 6.30pm.

Sri Lanka claimed six wickets for 75 in 24 overs, all but one before tea, as they silenced premature chatter about exactly when England would have batted Sri Lanka out of the game and be able to push for victory. Some judges remained impatient for England to declare and have half an hour bowling at Sri Lanka, and whilst that policy would have been uplifting, England, in a parlous state, could easily have overstretched themselves in seeking it. By the time they added 58 in the last seven overs, moving the fourth-innings target into unchartered territory for Lord's, the chance for a declaration had gone.

Sri Lanka's retort after conceding a first-innings lead of 112 was some achievement on a pitch that by and large remained as politely accoutred as a civilised guest at a St John's Wood soiree. Only now is it offering some turn and low bounce: a little shabby in places, as if the first glass of red had been generously poured.

Their recovery was sparked by an excellent new-ball spell, comfortably the best of the match, by Shaminda Eranga, who took the first three wickets during a 10-over spell on a cloudy, floodlit afternoon. After the incursions were made by his spell of 3 for 24, Herath rabbited into the hole to leave England shaken.

Eranga took his time to bowl himself into rhythm in this Test but, after England resumed 45 minutes before lunch with a lead of 122, he reached the peak of his game. No other bowler has browbeaten such a response from this surface.

Eranga defeated Alastair Cook's forward push - as stiff limbed as a Buckingham Place guardsman - to have him caught at the wicket and, bowling with vigour from the Nursery End, then twice held his line up the Lord's slope to cause Sam Robson and Ian Bell to play on.

If the dismissals of Robson and Bell were identical, their mental approach was not. Robson, the young Middlesex opener on Test debut, has batted with suspicion throughout. He made 19 from 50 balls, largely through leg-side nurdles, and regarded deliveries outside off stump with mechanical distrust. If he makes it as a Test regular, he might prove to be an acquired taste.

Bell, by contrast, played with a suppleness Robson could only have dreamed of. Admiration was cut short before he had reached double figures. Perhaps there was over-confidence in his drive on the up but, as England's classiest batsman, he represented their best chance of achieving the impetus needed for a declaration before the close.

When Herath then dismissed Root and Moeen Ali in successive overs, the chance again rose that Sri Lanka could indeed be batting on the fourth evening - but by virtue of bowling England out. Herath's rotund shape and unthreatening countenance disguises his craft: indeed, it may be part of his deception.

Root was caught on the crease by one that turned to strike his back pad. Moeen, who had struck his first ball from Herath for six in the first innings, this time danced down the track to deposit him over mid-on for four. But there was a looseness in his defensive push at the following delivery and Herath turned the ball through the gate to bowl him. He will need to tighten his approach to succeed as a Test batsman.

It could have been even better for Sri Lanka. Matt Prior was reprieved second ball, on nought, in the first innings when Sri Lanka narrowly failed to overturn the umpire's refusal of Herath's lbw appeal. Remarkably, the sequence was re-enacted to his third ball in the second innings, Prior pushing forward to a wide, round-arm delivery, umpire Bowden turning down the appeal as it thudded into his pad and Prior surviving, again by Umpire's Call, because the ball was not in line of off stump. Prior, though, did not remain for long.

Before lunch, Angelo Mathews became the second Sri Lanka batsman to add his name to the Lord's honours board, at his first attempt. It was an innings characterised by ebullient, bottom-hand blows, the target reached with a full-blooded smite through the off side as James Anderson served up a low, wide full toss. He was out in the next over, to the next ball he faced, as Liam Plunkett had him lbw with a ball of full length, Mathews' decision to review the decision failing to spare him.

England would be satisfied to have removed Sri Lanka's last three wickets for 38 runs in 14.4 overs, but their tactics invited discussion. Mathews was starting a new day, but England saw only the swagger of his unbeaten 79 on Saturday afternoon. They encouraged him to get off strike, preferring boundary riders to slips, and concentrated on battering the tail.

They did batter them, too. Of the 17 balls Herath faced, only the last one, a near-yorker from James Anderson which crashed into his middle stump, was full length; Stuart Broad, by contrast, was short and uncompromising.

There was even more physical threat in the fall of Sri Lanka's last man, Nuwan Pradeep. Failing to handle a short ball from Jordan, he was struck on the right shoulder, swung around in a mixture of pain and self-preservation and was out hit wicket as he careered his bat into middle stump. England showed decent concern for his welfare. But it would be surprising if there was not some smirking at the comedy of it all in the privacy of the dressing room.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ZCF on June 17, 2014, 8:44 GMT

    Well done young Gary Ballance. Just like Trott - not pretty but effective!

    He is not Zimbabwean talent. He is and always will be British talent, albeit via Zimbabwe. We must not discourage all of them from going back home, or exercising their freedom of choice to reject the African footstool which propped them up. Nothing unusual about that. All the more reason why the villified KP tattoed this fact onto this flesh and continues to celebrate his European legacy from his adopted England.

    Anyway, if England want to remain relevant in Test cricket then they need to get a competent pair of openers very fast. Cook has lost it, and Robson will hope his second Test is as fruitful as Bllance's second one was. As things stand, England may soon be forced to appoint Bell as captain and I can assure you a lot of English cricket fans will have egg in their faces when strangely unpopular souls Carberry&Compton are their first choice opening pair.

  • themba on June 16, 2014, 14:34 GMT

    Good to see a bit of old school Zimbabwean talent comming to fruit in the lords test well done Balance! Another true cricketer lost to Zimbabwe.

  • Supeshala on June 16, 2014, 12:15 GMT

    Huh...... you guys telling that Sri Lankan pitches are so flat and boring. How about the Load's pitch ? Most flattest and boring pitch in the world.

  • Dummy on June 16, 2014, 11:31 GMT

    Cook should strong than Ashes if not SL will be smash them at Lords in final day

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 11:11 GMT

    Now, this is Srilanka's game to lose, especially after conceding only 267 runs in the II Eng innings. C'mon SL. One never gets such an easy English opposition very often. Make it count!!

  • Android on June 16, 2014, 10:40 GMT

    Here hoping Sri Lanka progress to 180 and beyond for less tha 3 by lunch to setup a victory charge lead by their skipper

  • Android on June 16, 2014, 10:33 GMT

    not long ago SL were on other side of similar target against pak. alot of criticism for their defensive approach in that test when pak chased around 5 rpo. this time SL has chance to rectify that by chasing this 4.33 rpo target. i think they should go normally for first 20-25 overs and then after lunch they can launch.

  • Quamar on June 16, 2014, 10:17 GMT

    Sri Lanka can chase this- if Matthews and co have learned from the stunning chase by Pakistan in Sharjah against them a few months ago. In that match Pak chased over 300 in 1 1/2 sessions. This run rate is totally do-able in modern cricket and this Lords pitch is truer than that UAE pitch. Sri Lanka were punished in that match for their negativity, whilst the Sky commentators (Warne, Botham et all) are giving them no chance they obviously did not see that match. The SL openers should play positively and then Sanga and Mahela should shore it up if necessary. For the chase to be on one of the top middle order has to play a solid century innings at a good tempo as Azhar did in the greatest modern chase. Then someone needs to acclerate at the end as Sarfraz did, then someone to see them home as Misbah did...

  • Jason on June 16, 2014, 9:59 GMT

    @Herath-UK, why should he have done anything, most people knew that the declaration was coming and was more likely to declare overnight to give the SL batsmen something to ponder. I personally wouldn't have announced the declaration until 10:50, or even gone out for 10-15 minutes first thing giving instructions to play with freedom.

  • Duncan on June 16, 2014, 9:43 GMT

    Well done Ballance, but it was actually Jordan that impressed me most. He batted beautifully until his dismissal and I can now see why he comes in above Broad and Plunk despite inferior stats. I don't buy all the talk of lacking a 'specialist' spinner (i.e.one who can't bat) though. The fact is we have no-one good enough at the moment so we may as well play someone who can bat as well.

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