Let there be life after featherbed bore
"That was a very, very comfortable draw," said England's captain, Michael Vaughan. "I've been in the England side for a long time, and I've not been involved in that many comfortable draws. We usually have a panic somewhere, but not this time, which is a tremendous effort from the team. Especially after going into day four when it looked like we'd be under a lot of pressure. "
In the corresponding fixture four years ago, in not dissimilar conditions, England tumbled to defeat by an innings and 215 runs - their third heaviest in history. But there was never any danger of a similar capitulation this time around, as each of England's top three got themselves in on a wicket that was offering nothing to the opposition bowlers. "That wicket for a fourth- or fifth-day surface was very very flat," said Vaughan. It's already a tedious topic, but unfortunately, it is the only significant talking point of the Test
Overnight, the Sri Lankan newspapers found an alternative topic of conversation - the delayed declaration that allowed England to eat precious overs out of the game. But as far as Sri Lanka's captain, Mahela Jayawardene, was concerned, the only mistake he made in his tactics was not being out in the middle himself to chivvy the scoring along. His unexpected dismissal for 195 sounded the death knell for his team's ambitions, because none of the remaining batsmen would be as adept at forcing the pace.
"If I'd been around with Prasanna [Jayawardene], we probably should have pushed for a few more runs," said Jayawardene. "But I knew the wicket was slow so I was trying to play a mind game with them - the only way to put pressure on them was to make a bigger total, so that even if they had batted for two sessions, they wouldn't be able to get to our lead. I wanted to see if we could pick up four or five wickets before they got to our total."
It wasn't to be for Sri Lanka, although when Ian Bell fell to a loose lofted drive for 54, England were effectively 7 for 3, and a smidgeon of an opportunity presented itself. But Jayawardene was already resigned to the draw, and summed up the state of the game with a reference to one of his own players. "They couldn't even get Dilhara [Fernando] out on that wicket," he said, after Fernando, the No. 10, had more than doubled his previous Test-best of 16. "As soon as they got to our total, I knew they'd be relaxed and just bat through."
For Vaughan, it was satisfying still to be in with a chance of squaring the series, although he accepted that England have a bit of an issue among their batsmen, none of whom has yet reached three figures in four attempts. "I'd like to see us getting more hundreds and big hundreds," said Vaughan. "A couple, including myself, got set but we were a little unfortunate with our dismissals. Even so, the bowlers are going to put you under a lot of pressure throughout an innings, and you just have to make sure you're mentally tough enough to go on."
There were no such concerns about England's seam attack, however, all of whom came through a tough contest with admirable resolve. "On a wicket like that I can't ask more from my set of bowlers, to give as much as they did on that kind of surface," said Vaughan, "To keep running in on that kind of deck for 35 to 40 overs took a lot of desire and effort, and they can take a lot of credit for the way that they kept going. As Sri Lanka showed today, to force a result is very difficult."
|To bounce two of their batsmen out on a very slow pitch is very promising, and if we can somehow get to Galle and find a bit of bounce, I'm sure their batsmen won't look forward to facing him - Michael Vaughan on Steve Harmison|
Vaughan had particular praise for Steve Harmison and Stuart Broad, his two hit-the-deck specialists, who pounded in with great resolve throughout. "Harmy bowled very very well to get the bounce he did on that kind of wicket," said Vaughan. "To bounce two of their batsmen out on a very slow pitch is very promising, and if we can somehow get to Galle and find a bit of bounce, I'm sure their batsmen won't look forward to facing him. I thought he troubled all their players so it's a real good sign."
As for Broad, his 36-over stint included the solitary scalp of Chaminda Vaas, but at the age of 21, Vaughan predicted he would have a great international future. "He was impressive, and he's definitely got something," said Vaughan. "He'll be a fixture around the England team for many years if he can continue just to do what he does now, and improve as he gets more experience. He can be a real good player for England."
In the short term, he might find himself having to wait for his next opportunity, however. The signs are that England's senior seamer, Matthew Hoggard, is regaining fitness after taking a full part in training. Vaughan said that he would continue to be monitored when the team moves down to Galle, but added, tellingly: "Having Hoggard fit would be a big bonus."
The Galle Test, of course, will be about more than just the cricket. This will be the first fixture played on the ground since the tsunami of December 2004, and Vaughan was expecting an historic occasion. As far as the wicket goes, however, it is largely an unknown quantity. A two-day practice match took place on the ground this week and the reports were that the pitch was once again slow, but Vaughan felt that it could be more conducive for a result.
"After the pitch they produced here, whatever seamers we picked wouldn't have made any difference," said Vaughan. "The crucial thing at Galle is to assess the wicket properly. We need to win and go home with a series draw, because that would be a great effort for the team."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo