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At the age of 31, and with the frustration of being England's nearly-man for best part of two years, Jon Lewis is long enough in the tooth to take anything in his stride these days
June 2, 2006
At the age of 31, and with the frustration of being England's nearly-man for best part of two years, Jon Lewis is long enough in the tooth to take anything in his stride these days. Even so, his inclusion for this match - on the flattest, driest surface yet presented in the Test series - was a stroke of selectorial whimsy that few would have expected of this most straightforward of England regimes.
Lewis, by common consent, is a man who thrives on dank, dark conditions - the stereotypical English swing bowler, who has ruled the first-class averages with a rod of iron since this miserably wet season began. He might have made his debut in the first Test at Lord's, following his demolition job for England A at Worcester, when he grabbed match figures of 9 for 90 to condemn Sri Lanka to a thumping ten-wicket defeat.
But instead he was overlooked in favour of Sajid Mahmood, and rightly so, we all believed. Let's pick a pacey young thruster with an eye to the future, rather than a horses-for-courses selection that might evoke memories of Neil Mallender, Tim Munton and countless other journeyman pros who have flashed through the English game in the past decade and more.
And yet, Lewis himself was not one of the doubters. "I never thought I wasn't going to play," he insisted at the close, after his debut figures of 3 for 68 had left Sri Lanka ruing their third wasted first innings of the series. "I've been watching the first two Tests closely and I've been present in the team meetings," he added, after being twice omitted from the final XI on the morning of the match, "so I've had a pretty good look at what they could do."
What they could do, it transpired, was not a great deal. Aside from a defiantly classy second-wicket stand of 82 between Upul Tharanga and Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka surrendered meekly to England's battery of seam and swing bowlers, and would have succumbed for significantly less than their eventual 231, had it not been for a dizzy last hurrah from Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan. For Sri Lanka, it is becoming a wearyingly familiar theme.
Maybe Asantha de Mel had a point after all. When Sri Lanka's chairman of selectors coerced Sanath Jayasuriya out of retirement, he was doing so as a reaction to the glaring weaknesses at the top of his country's batting order. Though Tharanga, Michael Vandort, and Jehan Mubarak have had their individual moments on this tour, in partnership with one another they have been simply pitiful - in 13 innings from the first warm-up against British Universities, the opening stand has read like a contour map of the Netherlands - 6, 3, 10, 60, 0, 0, 0, 10, 73, 3, 3, 2, 2. Just two stands over 10 and three consecutive no-scores.
Two of those, in fact, were delivered by the debutant himself. Vandort was Sri Lanka's most impressive batsman in the Edgbaston Test, where he scored an impressive 105 to stave off an innings defeat, but one look at Lewis was enough to send him scurrying for the pavilion. Lewis bagged him with his first and fourth balls at Worcester, and now followed up with a third-ball scalping to complete a sorry story. Eight deliveries, three dismissals, no runs conceded.
"You get a lot of confidence from getting guys out," said Lewis afterwards. "They would have been pretty worried of me." And given their summer-long struggle against the moving ball, Sri Lanka might have been equally alarmed by Trent Bridge's reputation as a swinger's paradise.
Lewis had no idea why the ground was so conducive to his art. "It always swings here," he shrugged, adding that the recent renovation of the ground had done little to change its characteristics. "And it's got nothing to do with the overhead conditions either, because it was a beautiful day."
Lewis was adamant that he wouldn't be typecast as a bowler. "I feel I can get wickets on any sort of pitch," he insisted. "I'm not just a swing bowler, because I do other things with the ball - I change my pace, use the conditions to suit me. I can adapt." But on a day when Andrew Flintoff charged in at full tilt for the first time this summer, it was clear just how far behind on the speedgun he would be registering.
"Freddie bowled fast," said Lewis, after Flintoff's two-wicket burst before lunch had changed the course of the day. "It was brilliant bowling from the captain. He's a charismatic guy, so when he charges in everyone else goes up a gear. It was an important spell at 82 for 1, because they were playing some really good cricket, and he came in and changed the game."
For Flintoff, the imminent end to his first stint of captaincy may have persuaded him to slip the handbrake a fraction. For Lewis, the start and the finish of his Test career may be closely entwined. Steve Harmison is on the way back to full fitness, while Sajid Mahmood will have been jolted to respond to his omission with a full-blooded reply. But, for a man who had a Test career dangled tantalisingly under his nose 15 months ago in South Africa, only for it to be whipped away almost as soon as it had appeared, he will have enjoyed his day in the sun - even if he usually prefers it to be nice and cold and overcast.
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