England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 5th day June 24, 2014

The tale of two balls, one winner and a piece of history

With two balls remaining at Lord's, Nuwan Pradeep was saved by an inside edge (and the DRS). A little over a week later, with two balls remaining at Leeds, James Anderson fended a bouncer to decide the series
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This is the amazing story of the penultimate ball. A tale of two Tests that lasted their full five days and went to the wire. The story of one, maybe two, millimetres denying the England team and of one ball remaining when the Sri Lanka team created their piece of history. There are sub-plots galore but the climax is why we go back to the well. It matters not a jot how many Tests you have seen, the surprises keep coming.

At Lord's, barely more than a week ago, Stuart Broad bowled the penultimate ball of the first Test needing one wicket to secure England's deserved victory. He tore in at Nuwan Pradeep who, if not quite a rabbit, is no Geoff Boycott either.

The ball was fast, full and straight. Just the job. Pradeep bravely pushed forward to meet it with his pad. There was this tremendous thud, followed by an equally tremendous roar as eleven apoplectic Englishmen appealed to the umpire. Without hesitation, the umpire responded in their favour. Plumb. At the raise of this right Australian forefinger, the Englishmen went nuts. The match was won. The new era had started with an almighty bang.

Almost. Pradeep had other ideas. He immediately shook his head in a splendidly dramatic panic. He marched towards the umpire and then he thought, hang on, we can find justice in this injustice. And so he signalled that he wanted the decision reviewed. For all the stick that comes the way of the DRS, it sure provides theatre. And, more often than not, the truth.

Oh god, a review, thought all England. Yippee, a review, thought a little island off the South East coast of India. The process is painful. First the no-ball. Fine there, a legal delivery. Then Hot Spot. Hang on, hang on, goodness gracious, golly me. He hit it. Nuwan hit the damn thing. Justice!

The result of the Test may well have changed because some bloke applied the science of friction to the impact of ball on bat. Tell that one to Fred Trueman. I know, you can't, but...well, it beggars belief. Obviously, anti-climactically the last ball was resisted by the exultant Pradeep. Mind you, only just. Broad's excellent delivery found the edge of Pradeep's bat and it flew to second slip. Trouble was, it bounced before it got there, Match saved. Miracle. Everyone gob-smacked.

Fast forward eight days, to the penultimate ball of the match. That's the second Test. It is Shaminda Eranga this time, bowling to James Anderson not long before dusk. Jimmy has a happy knack of saving Tests. It is not that he can bat that well, just that he has a heart the size of a lion. Anderson had faced 55 balls over 81 minutes without scoring a single run. But he had given hope that the match might be saved. At the other end, the simply magnificent Moeen Ali had brought expectation to proceedings. Expectation of escape.

Now if you wanted to slag off Moeen, you damn well could. I mean, fancy not nicking the strike to save Jimmy from himself (Joke.) Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Balls 51 to 54 were superbly handled. Two remained to save the match, a task incidentally that no other team in history that had been five down going into the last day of a Test had achieved.

Eranga sprinted up the Headingley hill. He flung the leather short and hard at Anderson's throat. If only Anderson had ducked, or swayed, or slipped, or fell. But he didn't. See Moeen, Jimmy tried to play this frightening missile with his bat, or glove, or hand, or wrist or something. From his bat, it ballooned up in the air and was caught. If it had been you Moeen, no problem. You are a marvellous batsman. Whereas Jimmy, if not quite a rabbit, is no Geoff Boycott. The best nought in the history of cricket came to nothing, whichever way you look at it.

You should have seen the hyenas. Sorry, the Sri Lankans. They went whooping mad all over the hallowed turf. Goodness knows what Trueman would have said but as it was, Dickie Bird fidgeted a bit more than usual. (Impossible, I hear you say.)

Just a few millimetres here and there - a thick edge and a thin edge - and two Tests are decided, the series is won and Sri Lanka create their own history. Fantastic stuff. Sri Lanka have never won a series in England before. All hail Angelo Mathews. Poor Moeen. He deserved better. He really is a find.

Forgetting Moeen for a mo. What a shocker of a week for English sport. The rugby players lost 3-0 in New Zealand. After two thrilling Tests, the third was a terrible thumping. The experts say that the coach, Stuart Lancaster, is doing an excellent job. What a relief. The footballers were knocked out of the World Cup after two games. Only 30% of the players in the Premiership are English. Enough said.

The cricketers fell apart like a cheap suit on the fourth evening at Headingley and this was the root of the penultimate ball drama on the final afternoon. They should have won both Tests against Sri Lanka but contrived to lose the series 1-0. Yikes. The new era must be around the corner somewhere.

What is clear from these three fallouts, is that the young fellas must be the ones to give it a go. Youth knows no past, youth looks forward and sees challenges as opportunities. Experience is all well and good but experience has seen both sides of the fence. Youth does not know about the fence. After the match, the battle-worn Alastair Cook said he will fight on. An excellent sentiment. He must insist that plenty of young fellas are ready to fight with him. There are more Moeen Alis out there.

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

  • POSTED BY VICTOR123 on | June 26, 2014, 19:25 GMT

    Good article but 'You should have seen the hyenas.'?? Mark, surely you mean 'You should have seen the Sri Lankan Lions'. if you want further confirmation just look at the Sri Lankan flag.

  • POSTED BY on | June 26, 2014, 8:56 GMT

    I do agree that it was a question of millimetres, a tale of 2 balls. But I refer to the two balls which earned Matt Prior a reprieve from the onfield umpires, by a question of milliemetres, especially in the first innings at Lords. England were 5 down for 200 and would not have been able to apply scoreboard presseure on the Lankans had Matt Prior been adjudicated out. Prior and Root went on to put up a 180+ partnership which changed the course of the game and almost won England the series. If they were down to 6 wickets for 200 at Lord's maybe SL would have been dictating the terms. So contrary to popular (English press) belief, it was not England contriving to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory but a close series which neither team deserved to lose. And as a Sri Lankan I wish to make my objection to Mark Nicholas reference to the SL's as hyenas even if it was meant in levity. Poor judgement Mark.

  • POSTED BY fairfan70 on | June 26, 2014, 5:40 GMT

    SL had their share of luck in both tests and they deserved it. Well done SL!

  • POSTED BY Patchmaster on | June 26, 2014, 3:21 GMT

    I'd rather that Mr Cook didn't 'battle on'....and someone who has some decent leadership skills did !

  • POSTED BY sammysam on | June 26, 2014, 0:47 GMT

    shame on foxtel for no match coverage in Australia.

  • POSTED BY on | June 26, 2014, 0:29 GMT

    Amazing game of Test cricket. Riveting !!!

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 20:24 GMT

    @ Natx SL bowling wasn't more experienced or for that matter than that of Ind...................yet Mathews 100s produced win & draw bcz he is match winner unlike accumulator Dravid who has (2 u mentioned) too few match winning inns for a carrier of 150+ tests.............Mathews 100s have begun being match winning despite such short test carrier

  • POSTED BY Peterincanada on | June 25, 2014, 16:39 GMT

    @rizwan Recalling Brian Close would be an upgrade over some of the current crop but at 83 he would have a problem running between the wickets. If he could bat with a runner you might be on to something.

  • POSTED BY ToTellUTheTruth on | June 25, 2014, 14:15 GMT

    What an awesome test it was. First (and always) there is Sanga...my hero. Then there was Mahela...and then the Captain. Angelo...take a bow. What a captaincy!!! 11 bowling changes in the last hour, and you got the result. That was very brilliant.

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 13:44 GMT

    All I can say is , it was (the whole series) a tight, too close for comfort deal. It could have easily gone the other way. Both the tests were anybody's game. I feel sorry for the home team, they should have won the first game. SL has done extremely well under the circumstances, especially Angelo. Angelo is the most consistent bat in the Sri Lankan camp in all forms of the game, he deserves a lot praise. Silva does not deserve the opener spot. He may be a good bat but as an opener he is very slow starter, not positive enough to put a few runs on the board. Moeen will prove to be a very useful allrounder.

  • POSTED BY VICTOR123 on | June 26, 2014, 19:25 GMT

    Good article but 'You should have seen the hyenas.'?? Mark, surely you mean 'You should have seen the Sri Lankan Lions'. if you want further confirmation just look at the Sri Lankan flag.

  • POSTED BY on | June 26, 2014, 8:56 GMT

    I do agree that it was a question of millimetres, a tale of 2 balls. But I refer to the two balls which earned Matt Prior a reprieve from the onfield umpires, by a question of milliemetres, especially in the first innings at Lords. England were 5 down for 200 and would not have been able to apply scoreboard presseure on the Lankans had Matt Prior been adjudicated out. Prior and Root went on to put up a 180+ partnership which changed the course of the game and almost won England the series. If they were down to 6 wickets for 200 at Lord's maybe SL would have been dictating the terms. So contrary to popular (English press) belief, it was not England contriving to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory but a close series which neither team deserved to lose. And as a Sri Lankan I wish to make my objection to Mark Nicholas reference to the SL's as hyenas even if it was meant in levity. Poor judgement Mark.

  • POSTED BY fairfan70 on | June 26, 2014, 5:40 GMT

    SL had their share of luck in both tests and they deserved it. Well done SL!

  • POSTED BY Patchmaster on | June 26, 2014, 3:21 GMT

    I'd rather that Mr Cook didn't 'battle on'....and someone who has some decent leadership skills did !

  • POSTED BY sammysam on | June 26, 2014, 0:47 GMT

    shame on foxtel for no match coverage in Australia.

  • POSTED BY on | June 26, 2014, 0:29 GMT

    Amazing game of Test cricket. Riveting !!!

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 20:24 GMT

    @ Natx SL bowling wasn't more experienced or for that matter than that of Ind...................yet Mathews 100s produced win & draw bcz he is match winner unlike accumulator Dravid who has (2 u mentioned) too few match winning inns for a carrier of 150+ tests.............Mathews 100s have begun being match winning despite such short test carrier

  • POSTED BY Peterincanada on | June 25, 2014, 16:39 GMT

    @rizwan Recalling Brian Close would be an upgrade over some of the current crop but at 83 he would have a problem running between the wickets. If he could bat with a runner you might be on to something.

  • POSTED BY ToTellUTheTruth on | June 25, 2014, 14:15 GMT

    What an awesome test it was. First (and always) there is Sanga...my hero. Then there was Mahela...and then the Captain. Angelo...take a bow. What a captaincy!!! 11 bowling changes in the last hour, and you got the result. That was very brilliant.

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 13:44 GMT

    All I can say is , it was (the whole series) a tight, too close for comfort deal. It could have easily gone the other way. Both the tests were anybody's game. I feel sorry for the home team, they should have won the first game. SL has done extremely well under the circumstances, especially Angelo. Angelo is the most consistent bat in the Sri Lankan camp in all forms of the game, he deserves a lot praise. Silva does not deserve the opener spot. He may be a good bat but as an opener he is very slow starter, not positive enough to put a few runs on the board. Moeen will prove to be a very useful allrounder.

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 12:55 GMT

    Good article Mark, but the root of the drama wasn't the collapse on the 4th evening. That was just the continuation of the abject test cricket England had played since drinks on the evening of the second day. To remind you, at those drinks England were 277-2, 20 ahead with 8 first innings wickets in hand, Bell and Robson going well. They then contrived to lose 8-88, bowl dreadfully twice with the new ball, drop myriad catches, and let Mahela and Mathews get away to a crucial start on day 4. Then, when they did get wickets, Cook let Angelo dictate terms. No way should they have been chasing 350. To make things (even) worse, the batting collapsed again leaving us 57-5. 13 English wickets had made less than Sri Lanka's 8th wicket pair. This would be true even if England had saved the test.

  • POSTED BY rizwan1981 on | June 25, 2014, 12:31 GMT

    If an average Sri Lankan attack can beat England , I shudder to think the damage Steyn , Morkel and Philander can do on a pitch offering assistance to seamers.

    Is it too late to recall Brian Close !

  • POSTED BY AdhishS on | June 25, 2014, 12:19 GMT

    @Ahmad Uetian: I dont think you even understand what a great cricketer Dravid was... Dravid and Mathews have completely different styles of cricket and Dravid has played many a great knocks for India in his career. I am sure even the most die-hard fans of Sri Lanka will agree that Mathews has a hell lot to prove to even come close to comparison with Dravid.

  • POSTED BY CricketpunditUSA on | June 25, 2014, 12:09 GMT

    The problem with England, its fans, pundits and the authors like you: You overrate your stars.. Beckam, Wayne Rooney, Flintoff, Botham, KP, Broad, Anderson, Cook are a few examples... They are good sportsmen but they are not great at the world level. Vaughan's comment about Lanka's bowling is a great example of what English thinks about themselves!! The truth is England on its current batting form is more or less an Indian Ranji side. A good bowling side will rip through the side. Fortunately, both SL and India do not have great bowling sides. Anyway, kiss the ashes good by for another 15 years at least. I don't see any hope for the English batting, Moen aside. He will be a one series wonder. The moment he fails in two tests, one of the other guys will take his place. Ben Stokes will come into play as well. So Moen's days are numbered. Joe Root will prosper for another 4 years with single digit scores just like Cook because he is the wonder boy of English cricket and he has scored 160!

  • POSTED BY Natx on | June 25, 2014, 12:01 GMT

    @Ahmad Uetian: Do you watch enough cricket to know what you are speaking about? Dravid is sure an accumulator but that is what test cricket is all about. Patience. Match awareness is key to playing based on the requirements of the game. Have you seen or heard about Dravid's test innings against Aus in Kolkatta (2001) or in Adelaide (2003)? Both resulted in victories to India. One at home and the other abroad. He was the only player standing up to a very good English attack in 2011 while the rest flopped. Indians lost due to thier pathetic bowling line up. Not due to Dravid. By all means let's give credit to SL and Mathews as the deserve every bit of this victory, but as a neutral fan do not meaninglessly drag and compare other teams and players without knowing the scenarios and facts. Thanks.

  • POSTED BY 1_234 on | June 25, 2014, 11:48 GMT

    Everyone in the world knew this is going to be a short ball except Jimmy Anderson.

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 11:28 GMT

    Excellent.Beauty of cricket.If it went in the other way around ,I mean if Pradeep got out and if Jimmy held on to,the scripts would have written differently.Every one who asks for Cook's head would have been praising him without a doubt .The uncertainty and the swaying of pendulum is the beauty of this game.Five days of sweat and blood is ultimately decided by the penultimate ball.Yes truly it is a tale of two balls.

  • POSTED BY VinothSam on | June 25, 2014, 9:58 GMT

    Moeen reminds me Owais Shah, Nick Compton and Jonny Bairstow. I don't know how long England will have him in the squad.

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 8:53 GMT

    Full credit to Mathews. He played for runs not just blocked even when SL was on mat in 2nd inns in 2nd test. He also farmed strike very well.

    The difference b/w an overrated accumulator like Dravid & a match winner like Marhews is evident here. Dravid scored 3 100s vs Eng in 2011 Eng tour & Ind lost all 3 tests. But Mathews aggressive 100s saved SL the 1st test & won them the 2nd despite having similar bowling attack to Ind.

    Sachin's selfish 100s at least helped Ind draw a large proportion of matches, most of which Ind could have won but only for toothless Ind bowling Ind didn't.

    As far as Cook is concerned he lacks aggression & desperation for victory. In 1st test he should have asked his batsmen to attack from lunch & should have declared at tea on 4th day in 1st test. giving bowlers enogh time to take 10 wickets

    Finally Broad is the most overrated toothless bowler

  • POSTED BY awahab.me1 on | June 25, 2014, 8:39 GMT

    a good observation, I thought England tail did a very good job with Moeen Ali.

  • POSTED BY FAB_ALI on | June 25, 2014, 8:14 GMT

    2014..this is Sri Lanka's year. Everything somehow falls in place and they end up on winning side. Asia Cup, World Cup and now ODI & Test series win in England, all great achievements. Comes a phase like this for every aspiring team and I think it will last till the ens of the year, as they will be playing in subcontinent and looks a better outfit than their upcoming two oppositions. The question remains is, will they be able to carry on the momentum to 2015 and surprise the world to lift the cup. Mind you, they are a big contender this time, but only time will tell. Or maybe, the phase will be over by then and they fall prey to the next phase which brings the flyers back to their earth.

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 7:07 GMT

    To sum up the match:

    "Fortune favours the Brave"

  • POSTED BY EdwinD on | June 25, 2014, 5:04 GMT

    Huge credit must go to Matthews here....when it was clear that Anderson would face the last over he switched bowlers, throwing on Eranga when Anderson had had no problems with Herath...

  • POSTED BY PrasPunter on | June 25, 2014, 4:48 GMT

    In hindsight, yes @cricketlover, even i think Moeen should have played the last set. But thats the way the game goes !! And that exactly is the beauty of this game !! Not just skills but mind at work !! Who gets better at mind ends up the winner !! But Moeen's innings was pure class. Eng have unearthed a solid No 6 !!

  • POSTED BY VinothSam on | June 25, 2014, 3:14 GMT

    It is a good article but "hyenas"? Come on are you series man? Sri Lanka is not an underdog team. We are World Champs.

  • POSTED BY regofpicton on | June 25, 2014, 2:13 GMT

    It is a bit tough blaming Moeen for not facing the last over. I only have cricinfo's ball by ball to go on, but it reads as though he would have had to take a considerable risk sneaking a single of one of the last couple of balls in the penultimate over. Certainly the commentators congratulated Prasad on the quality of that over. And this in the context that Anderson had shown that he was up to the task.

    Above all else, any real lover of cricket should be able to embrace a result that so well embodies the wonders of the game itself - cricket lovely cricket.

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 1:56 GMT

    Excellent article.. Mark Nicholas is spot on and his writing is so beautiful...

  • POSTED BY crickketlover on | June 24, 2014, 23:33 GMT

    Luck plays a role in cricket. I think Moeen should have played the last over. why didn't he try for a single in the previous over and kept the strike? He should not have let Anderson play the last over. Looks like SL was destined to win this test series!

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  • POSTED BY crickketlover on | June 24, 2014, 23:33 GMT

    Luck plays a role in cricket. I think Moeen should have played the last over. why didn't he try for a single in the previous over and kept the strike? He should not have let Anderson play the last over. Looks like SL was destined to win this test series!

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 1:56 GMT

    Excellent article.. Mark Nicholas is spot on and his writing is so beautiful...

  • POSTED BY regofpicton on | June 25, 2014, 2:13 GMT

    It is a bit tough blaming Moeen for not facing the last over. I only have cricinfo's ball by ball to go on, but it reads as though he would have had to take a considerable risk sneaking a single of one of the last couple of balls in the penultimate over. Certainly the commentators congratulated Prasad on the quality of that over. And this in the context that Anderson had shown that he was up to the task.

    Above all else, any real lover of cricket should be able to embrace a result that so well embodies the wonders of the game itself - cricket lovely cricket.

  • POSTED BY VinothSam on | June 25, 2014, 3:14 GMT

    It is a good article but "hyenas"? Come on are you series man? Sri Lanka is not an underdog team. We are World Champs.

  • POSTED BY PrasPunter on | June 25, 2014, 4:48 GMT

    In hindsight, yes @cricketlover, even i think Moeen should have played the last set. But thats the way the game goes !! And that exactly is the beauty of this game !! Not just skills but mind at work !! Who gets better at mind ends up the winner !! But Moeen's innings was pure class. Eng have unearthed a solid No 6 !!

  • POSTED BY EdwinD on | June 25, 2014, 5:04 GMT

    Huge credit must go to Matthews here....when it was clear that Anderson would face the last over he switched bowlers, throwing on Eranga when Anderson had had no problems with Herath...

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 7:07 GMT

    To sum up the match:

    "Fortune favours the Brave"

  • POSTED BY FAB_ALI on | June 25, 2014, 8:14 GMT

    2014..this is Sri Lanka's year. Everything somehow falls in place and they end up on winning side. Asia Cup, World Cup and now ODI & Test series win in England, all great achievements. Comes a phase like this for every aspiring team and I think it will last till the ens of the year, as they will be playing in subcontinent and looks a better outfit than their upcoming two oppositions. The question remains is, will they be able to carry on the momentum to 2015 and surprise the world to lift the cup. Mind you, they are a big contender this time, but only time will tell. Or maybe, the phase will be over by then and they fall prey to the next phase which brings the flyers back to their earth.

  • POSTED BY awahab.me1 on | June 25, 2014, 8:39 GMT

    a good observation, I thought England tail did a very good job with Moeen Ali.

  • POSTED BY on | June 25, 2014, 8:53 GMT

    Full credit to Mathews. He played for runs not just blocked even when SL was on mat in 2nd inns in 2nd test. He also farmed strike very well.

    The difference b/w an overrated accumulator like Dravid & a match winner like Marhews is evident here. Dravid scored 3 100s vs Eng in 2011 Eng tour & Ind lost all 3 tests. But Mathews aggressive 100s saved SL the 1st test & won them the 2nd despite having similar bowling attack to Ind.

    Sachin's selfish 100s at least helped Ind draw a large proportion of matches, most of which Ind could have won but only for toothless Ind bowling Ind didn't.

    As far as Cook is concerned he lacks aggression & desperation for victory. In 1st test he should have asked his batsmen to attack from lunch & should have declared at tea on 4th day in 1st test. giving bowlers enogh time to take 10 wickets

    Finally Broad is the most overrated toothless bowler