England v Sri Lanka, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 5th day June 16, 2014

Sangakkara a maestro in convoluted drama

In a match to highlight all that is great about Test cricket Kumar Sangakarra showed his class and without him Sri Lanka were done for

Here are the facts. Five good days at Lord's finished in a stalemate. That is the nature of the Test match beast. There are more results these days than there ever used to be primarily because batsmen look to play more shots and therefore make more mistakes. Had England had the common sense to pick a specialist spinner, even one of county standard, the missing wicket would probably have been found. It is very difficult to play for five days without that variation. The chosen ones gave their captain every ounce of themselves but the match summary records their efforts as worthless.

Yes, those are the facts. What cannot be so easily explained is the almost unbearable tension that accompanied this stalemate. What absolutely must be explained is that Test cricket is a unique and irresistible thing. It is many, many games within a game. Yes, the moderns tend to bat as if catching a train. Their genius on the final day at Lord's was to bat as if waiting for Godot. Test cricket is a convoluted emotional drama that tells us things about the people who play it in a way no other sport possibly can. How can one contest last for five full days and come down to the very last ball bowled without providing a winner? How can the protagonists deal with that, never mind the audience? It is plainly ridiculous and all the more wonderful for it.

The two teams are well matched, neither being from the top drawer but still containing players who have something special. First among them is Kumar Sangakkara and without him in this game Sri Lanka were done for. His career record when chosen not as the wicketkeeper is remarkable and second only to Sir Donald Bradman's. In those 75 matches, he had scored 8242 runs at the stratospheric average of 70.44. There are nine double hundreds in those figures, again only Bradman with 12 has made more while Brian Lara with nine is a peer. Notwithstanding the fact that he has plundered both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the time has come to include Sri Lanka's finest batsman in the pantheon of an age that includes Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting.

Indeed, so fast did Gary Ballance learn from Sangakkara that signs of the Sri Lankan maestro were in his own superb hundred. The unhurried construction of the innings, the relaxed shoulders and hands in defence, the freed spirit in the strokeplay and then, finally, the joyous expression at the achievement. The next thing Ballance can study is the ability to start each innings as if it were the most important of his life. Sangakkara's pride, both in his own performance and in his country at large, is an irresistible motivation to those around him. He plays the game as if he owes it to his people.

But even Sangakkara gets out. That's the thing. You might be the best ever, Bradman, but you still cannot make 4 when you need it. It required canny thinking for James Anderson to finally get the better of Sangakkara yesterday afternoon but it took more than four hours to do so. It was the wicket that finally opened the door for England, a door they could not quite slam shut in Sri Lanka's face.

Experts in the media centre went back in time and could not remember a surface at Lord's that had deteriorated so little. Even the groundsman, Mick Hunt, was perplexed

Both Anderson and Stuart Broad are in a merry band of five who have taken 50 wickets at Lord's. Sir Ian Botham tops the list, a tad ahead of Anderson. Behind them, but in fewer matches, is Fred Trueman. Then, on exactly 50, is Stuart Broad. The best record belongs to Bob Willis, who in nine games at Lord's took 47 wickets at 18.76 each.

During the first innings Anderson bowled a little short, as he has done for a while now. It is as if he is protecting his stats, an idea lost on the young but which creeps up on those with miles in their legs. But in the second, he sprinted in to bowl a full length and as the ball aged so his wizardry with reverse swing began to make Sri Lankan batsmen disappear. Broad helped wizard away nine of them but the tenth was beyond even the wizards.

By the end the pitch had beaten them all - which one suspects would have included those wizards Botham, Trueman and Willis had they been there. The experts in the media centre went back in time and could not remember a surface at Lord's that had deteriorated so little. Even the groundsman, Mick Hunt, was perplexed. Maybe pitches are like us, he mused, as they get older they lose something of their zest for life. Or maybe, a spinner among English ranks would have changed the perception.

In the search for a balance between bat and ball, groundsman need support if a pitch that offers help to the bowler leads to an early finish. While we all promote the primacy of Test match cricket we must relate to the needs of a modern audience who don't get much of a buzz from a five day draw. Or we must ask them all to Lord's for a last afternoon like this one. Selectors should create balanced teams, not a pack of seamers who become increasingly irrelevant as the game moves through its various stages.

Hang on a minute please. We have time for a memo to N Srinivasan, Chairman of ICC and Alastair Cook, Captain of England (cc W Edwards, G Clarke).

The players need a rocket for the over rates. The average for the first three innings of this match was below 13 over an hour and that is with numerous allowances. The required rate is 15, thus each day's play not only went the maximum half an hour beyond the scheduled close but finished with supposedly mandatory overs not bowled at all. This cheats the public and allows a struggling bowling side unfair respite. The time has come to add runs to the financial penalties that the well paid modern player could not care less about. A cost of ten per over would sharpen them up, alongside an increase in fines that must surely apply to every player. Notably, England bowled at almost two overs per hour faster on the final day when the smell of victory was in the air.

The mid-session drinks break is unnecessary and takes longer than it should. This is a game that breaks for lunch and tea for goodness sake, they don't need elevenses too! Glove changes, unscheduled drinks, the movement of sight screens, tardy captains and a general lack of urgency and ambition are combining to irritate the spectator and take a sense of purpose out of the spectacle. As we move into the guts of the 21st century, Test cricket has enough to worry about without this issue of over rates encouraging the critics to use it as ballast in the argument against the game's long term sustainability.

This is a game that breaks for lunch and tea, they don't need elevenses too! Glove changes, unscheduled drinks, the movement of sight screens, tardy captains and a general lack of urgency are combining to take a sense of purpose out of the spectacle

But forget all that for a minute and consider this. England failed to complete 13 of their allotted overs for the game. Such tardiness surely cost them the match. Over rates damn well matter.

While having a grumble, there remains nothing, nothing, that gets everyone going like the television replay of low catches. Matt Prior took a perfectly clean catch to dismiss Kaushal Silva in the first innings but one replay angle - out of about five incidentally - suggested the ball may have bounced. This replay is a magnified two-dimensional image, foreshortened by the camera lens. It flattens the image, suggesting that grass, glove, shadow and ball are as one. It is utterly misleading and mainly wrong. Not one former cricketer canvassed thought the ball bounced but Prior is immediately mistrusted for claiming the catch because the decision was given against him.

There is much talk of the spirit of the game and, in this case, television technology is working against it. It is a great pity that the captains of each Test playing nation cannot find a common moral ground or that the umpires in the middle cannot back their judgement without fear of the same recrimination from technology. If a player deliberately cheats by claiming a catch he knows has not carried, those same replays will soon expose him. Almost anything is better than the present situation, which all too often has everyone muttering their disapproval.

Memo ends.

A final word for Angelo Mathews, whose embattled fortnight ended with a match-saving vigil while England threw the kitchen sink at him. The Mankad incident brought the name of the Sri Lankan captain into the public consciousness. Suddenly your Mum knew who he was and reacted with shock when you said he had done the right thing at Edgbaston. "But it wasn't a very nice thing to do, was it dear?" "Well, I think I would have done the same Mum." "Good heavens!"

Mathews had an intelligent answer to the question "Would you do the same again?" He said "I hope not, but if the batsman keeps stealing an advantage and we warn him about it, what else are we to do?" By applying the Laws of the game the Sri Lankan captain was accused of breaking the Spirit of Cricket. That cannot be.

Since then, Mathews has ushered his team to victory in the deciding one day international between the teams, made a splendid hundred in the first innings of the Lord's Test and, in the second, gone most of the distance in ensuring the safety of his team in the same match. He is a formidable man. Charming to meet, granite to play against.

I could go on but Headingley is around the corner and plenty will go off there as they say in Yorkshire. All hail the 22 Lord's cricketers of the past five days. The game lives on through your performances. Just bowl your overs faster.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sheethal on June 20, 2014, 5:41 GMT

    @cric1965 Looks like you are more interested in Sanga scoring runs in SC than outside!!!! It's not pressure that got to sachin, it's aging sachin who struggled to score runs in his last 2yrs or so...We'll see what sanga does in the next 3-4yrs & that will tell us whether he belongs to the TOP 10 batsmen or not!!!

  • Steven on June 20, 2014, 4:46 GMT

    I love watching sanga bat to abit like bell easy on the eye the stats might say sanga is better in Asia and his technique suggests he should be good enough worldwide even if he isn't considered up there with tendulkar n co we all have our favourites sanga bell kallis chanderpaul devilliers R my favourite players to watch bat

  • Adhil on June 19, 2014, 13:52 GMT

    As a Sri Lankan I do not want to comment on whether Sangakkara is the best batsman after Bradman. To be honest there are too many people outside of Sri Lanka who would disagree and with good reason. However, I think he is a wonderful batsman who has brought a lot to the game and Sri Lankan fans. My only wish is that Sanga would get the opportunity to play at least 3 more tests each in Australia and South Africa. It would give him an opportunity to improve on his work in these conditions and also maybe someday be considered among the greatest to play the game. All the best to you Sanga!!!

  • MAHENDRA on June 19, 2014, 9:25 GMT

    @ITJOBSUCKS Gloveless Sanga,s stats cannot be compare with pressure. If you are a world class player you should be able to cope pressure. Sachin has failed miserably in his last years of his carrier. His average drops from 57 to 53 due to that. He wants to play 200 tests . Actually he was not suitable for a team place in his last years. That knows every body including selectors. Sanga should be compare with Kallis who has test average 55. He is a better player than Sachin even statistically,

  • Sheethal on June 19, 2014, 3:50 GMT

    BTW, Sanga has scored ONLY 6 100's outside sub-continent out of 36 100's....Virat Kohli who started his "Test" career 3-4 yrs ago has already scored 3 100's abroad (AUS,SA & NZ) & would've been 4 had he not got out on 98 v/s SA...I wouldn't be surprised by the end of this yr if kohli were to overtake Sanga's 100 outside SC!!!!

  • Sheethal on June 19, 2014, 3:31 GMT

    @cric1965 If you consider gloveless sanga, then i'll have to consider the pressure of 1 billion on SRT every time he walked to bat whereas Sanga didn't have any pressure of performing in front of 1 billion........BTW, you are still comparing Oranges with Apples....Your comparison clearly shows that Sanga is good ONLY in ASIA & if you take out that one substantial innings against AUS(192), his record would be poor in AUS also!!!! So, basically you've to score tons of runs in Srilanka to be named as the best batsman in the world rt ?

  • Sheethal on June 19, 2014, 3:18 GMT

    @ rizwan1981 I think you are the first person in the world to say Sachin didn't entertain...Just ask Mcgrath,Warne, Donald, Walsh, Ambrose, Wasim, Waqar, Steyn, Pollock who was the best batsman they bowled to ? I would be gobsmacked even if one of them were to say "Sanga"!!!! Since Australia has dominated cricket in the last 2 decades followed by SA(Only in Test matches), you've to judge the batsman what they have done against the best bowling attacks (not against PAK which has performed very poorly esp abroad & has been a avg team esp in the last decade)....SRT has 11 100's(AUS) & 7(SA), Lara has 9 100's(AUS) & 4(SA) while the GREAT Sanga has only 1 100(AUS) & 3 100's(SA)....

  • Sheethal on June 19, 2014, 3:01 GMT

    @Stel En Go through maruthudelft's comment, you will understand!!! There are 2 sets of batsmen i believe in the last generation we saw SRT, Lara & the rest....TheTrue test of a batsman is measured by his numbers esp in abroad & that's where Sanga has failed miserably in SA,ENG & IND!!! Moreover Sanga doesn't place himself alongside Sachin & lara as he has said zillion times that he accumulated runs whereas SRT & Lara dominated attacks.....In fact Dravid & Laxman have got better overseas record than Sanga which clearly tells where Sanga sits in the list!!!

  • MAHENDRA on June 19, 2014, 1:58 GMT

    @ITJOBSUCKS-Gloveless Sanga,s averages are higher than Sachin in Australia 77 to 53, NZ-134 to 49, Zimbabwe-140 to 40,Pakistan 60 to 40, Sri Lanka 77 to 67. Averages difference range is 10 to 100

    Sachin,s averages are higher than Sangakkara in England 54 to 49, SA 46 TO 37, West Indies 47 TO 42, Bangladesh 136 to 95, India 52 to 48. Averages difference range is 5 to 41

    That way we can compare apple with apples.

  • Mohamed Afulal on June 18, 2014, 22:19 GMT

    Mark, your's is a wonderful présentation of facts. Enjoyed every bit of réading and comparison alongside some of thé gréât players.

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