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How much fight a lower order shows can often be a window to the team spirit of a side, and Sri Lanka's lower order have battled in both innings
March 28, 2012
Many things can lead to frustration in the sort of heat that Galle has produced during this Test match. High on that list is taking wickets with no-balls and not being able to remove lower-order batsmen as a result. For the second time in the game, England exerted unexpected energy trying to wrap up Sri Lanka's innings.
Both times a Jayawardene has been in the way. In the first innings it was an epic performance from Mahela and second time around a gusty innings from Prasanna, a nuggety cricketer who has blunted England in the past. He scored a hundred at Cardiff last year and a match-saving 120 against Pakistan in the UAE before succumbing to a hernia which has kept him out of action until now. Dinesh Chandimal has stood in impressively but Prasanna is a valuable player for Sri Lanka and to slot straight back in with 61 showed his fighting qualities.
However, neither Mahela or Prasanna could have achieved the runs they scored without lower-order support. England would not have envisaged too many problems getting past Chanaka Welegedera or Suranga Lakmal. They have Test batting averages of nine and seven respectively, but between them in the second innings they soaked up 82 in partnerships of 40 and 47. That followed a first-innings effort of 54 when Welegedera accompanied Mahela. It could well prove the difference.
How much fight a lower order shows can often be a window to the team spirit of a side. When two players resist so solidly it suggests that everyone is in it together. "England were frustrated and we hung in there," Prasanna said. "Suranga and Chanaka batted very well, they knew what they had to do to help me."
England tried various tactics to break through, including a barrage of bouncers, but the pitch was slow enough to give batsmen, even tailenders, enough time to sway out of the line. It was one of those short balls that Prasanna top-edged back to Stuart Broad only for the delivery to be a clear no-ball when the umpire Rod Tucker asked for it to be checked on TV. The fact it cost England another 47 runs to close out the innings swayed the odds further in Sri Lanka's favour.
Graeme Swann was one of many Englishmen players getting redder in the face by the moment - but in his case not just because of the sun. When Prasanna lofted to deep midwicket, Samit Patel could not quite stay inside the boundary rope while taking the catch and it cost six. There was not much more Patel could have done, but England were desperate to get off the field.
"Sure there've been moments of frustration," Swann said. "As Englishmen we get very hot and bothered. That next 40 minutes hurt a little bit. You're looking at a chase of 285-290 and we're going to win this, to 330 where it's maybe tipped back to a 50-50 game. Those 40-odd runs were very hot and bothering for all the fielders. As you saw we were at each other's necks by the end."
"We aren't used to the heat and humidity and even though we've been here for three weeks, when things go against you like that it it's human nature. Fortunately we have a few very calm heads out there, Strauss being one of them. At the drinks break he just told us it had gone and we had to work our socks off to get the last wicket and make sure we stopped dwelling on the fact that things could have ended earlier. He did a superb job like that."
Swann's 6 for 82 in the first innings represented his second-best Test figures for England, a relief perhaps during a winter when he has often been outshone by other spin bowlers. He suggested that he had not been overly concerned. "It's probably the best I have bowled for a while for England," he said. "My personal view is that expectations of me have risen because of my performances so I am quite happy not to listen to people when they say I'm not bowling very well."
Although Andrew Strauss was just about able to keep control in the field, he won't be able to do anything to change the course of the match. With the outstanding exception of Mahela Jayawardene, this has not been a good Test for top-order batsmen (although Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen might yet change that) and Strauss's ugly mow to midwicket was up there with the worst shots of the match.
It is getting to the stage where his lack of runs - or, more accurately, his failure to convert starts - cannot be ignored. In the first innings he fell sweeping a full delivery against Rangana Herath and in the second innings he again fell trying to dominate him. In itself, the mindset to play positively should not be criticised, but trying to fetch a left-arm spinner out of the footmarks on a wearing third-day pitch can be. Strauss's scoring areas appear to have become so pared down - to the cut and the work through midwicket against the spinner - that he is looking for a release somewhere.
As you would expect, though, the team has nothing but praise for their captain. "I'm sure he's frustrated because he's a world-class opening batsman," Swann said. "He'll pride himself on his performances and want to score big runs. The way he got out today was showing very positive intent."
However, unless England can pull off a record-breaking chase, Strauss' frustration can only deepen.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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