Sri Lanka in England / Features

England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Lord's, 1st day

Sri Lanka's defective Plan B

What went wrong for Sri Lanka on the first day at Lord's

Charlie Austin

May 11, 2006

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A pace attack with Nuwan Kulasekera and Farveez Maharoof just wasn't effective enough © Getty Images
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It was a warm early summer's day, perfect for Chardonnay and canapés on Lord's velvet lawns. There was a feast on the main pitch too as Sri Lanka, prompted by early-tour concerns about their batting, picked a toothless bowling attack on a placid pitch. It did not help that the umpires kept their fingers firmly in their pockets.

When Sri Lanka departed for England, the first-choice strategy would have been for six batsmen and five bowlers, a combination that would have ensured an attack with variation, allowing for the leg breaks of Malinga Bandara and the freakish slingshots of Lasith Malinga. But with runs proving elusive for the top order, the tour management switched tact to Plan B.

The problem with Plan B (seven batters and four bowlers) is that it left Sri Lanka with little room for risk-taking and experimentation. If one bowler misfires in a five-man attack then you can survive, but a bad day in a four-man line-up can spell disaster. Sri Lanka went for the safe options: Nuwan Kulasekara over Malinga and Farveez Maharoof over Nuwan Zoysa.

But within the first hour the mistake was obvious. Geoff Boycott had barely put his Test Match Special headphones on for the first time before he weighed in with his first punches of the summer: "My Mom would've scored runs against this attack." Sri Lanka's seamers, like their dibbly-dobblers of yesteryear, gave the speedometer a day off, their deliveries rarely touching 80mph.

The rationale behind Kulasekera's selection was understandable - his English-like ability to hit the seam preferable to the pound-it-in style of Malinga - but Sri Lanka desperately needed some extra spice. Chaminda Vaas, playing his first Test for six months, operated at military medium, Kulasekera was tidy but as gentle as his smile, and Maharoof, struggling with the Lord's slope, stuttering his way to 12 no balls, conceding 5.22 runs per over.

Maharoof's lacklustre start to this tour may well have been the final nail in Malinga's coffin. Unfortunately, though, in conditions where he was tipped to revel, he has not yet rediscovered his impressive form against Pakistan in April. Sri Lanka's management backed him to come good but they were not willing to take the added gamble of Malinga, the one man, apart from Muttiah Muralitharan who provided a constant threat, who might have ruffled some feathers once England's batters bedded down after the initial threat of the new ball. With hindsight, too, Zoysa's extra bounce would have provided more menace.

However, it would not have been so emphatically England's day if three strong lbw shouts were not turned down. Marcus Trescothick was plumb lbw to Muralitharan's doosra on 28 and Kevin Pietersen was fortunate to be given an early reprieve to a Vaas inswinger. A Pietersen let-off in the final few minutes, as Maharoof overstepped again, rubbed salt into the wounds, summing up Sri Lanka's first-day frustrations.

Sri Lanka must have better luck on day two or England will pile-up a mountainous first-innings score. With Andrew Flintoff still padded-up in the dressing room and the forecasters predicting cloudier, swing-friendly weather over the weekend, the outlook already looks ominous.

Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondent

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Charlie Austin Sri Lanka editor When Charlie Austin left for Sri Lanka after graduating from Sussex University, he was a planning a winter's cricket in the tropics and a six-month stint with an environmental NGO. His mother's worst fears were soon realised when it became clear that he had fallen in love with the island. Six months have now become eight years and Colombo has become his home. He joined Cricinfo in February 2000 and now heads operations in Sri Lanka, responsible for both sales and editorial. He is also the director of a UK-based travel company called Red Dot Tours, and is currently ghosting Muttiah Muralitharan's autobiography.
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