Sri Lanka v England, 1st Test, Galle, 4th day March 29, 2012

At least Trott gets it

England built themselves a chance to win the first Test in Galle but the ability of only one man to overcome the conditions proved decisive

Mirages are best known for appearing in the desert but midway through another sizzling day, one appeared in the middle of the Galle stadium. It seemed that England had a chance to begin atoning for a dire start to their Test year by achieving a record fourth-innings run chase. Then, however, just like reaching the water and finding it is not there at all, that chance vanished in the blink of an eye.

With Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior taking their controlled fifth-wicket stand to 81, England had almost pushed their requirement into double figures. Then a moment of huge misfortune as Prior swept firmly and short leg managed to cling on in his midriff. It is the sort of blow that can change a match and England conspired to lose their last six wickets for 31 in another dismal collapse. While Prior can rightly rue his misfortune there was, for the eighth innings in a row, some highly questionable batting against worthy, but far from lethal, spin bowling.

But take nothing away from Sri Lanka, this was a hugely impressive victory for them and suggests they are coming to terms with life beyond Murali. Mahela Jayawardene stayed calm as the required runs were ticked off steadily, knowing that with England in their current state one wicket could open the floodgates. It came in an unorthodox manner, but he was proven to be exactly right.

It is the first time since 2006-07 that England had suffered four consecutive Test defeats and unless they can conjure a turnaround in Colombo - where conditions are likely to be quite similar to Galle - they will match their run from the Ashes whitewash. That series was Duncan Fletcher's last Test assignment and though there is no question of Andy Flower going the same way even with a 2-0 defeat in Sri Lanka the start to 2012 has shown up some stark home truths for England. In Asia they remain a very poor batting team.

You could even argue that the current run is worse than the nadir they hit against India in 1992-93 when they were whitewashed 3-0. During that era the England team did not have the millions spent on it for preparation and training they do these days. They also had little regular exposure to the subcontinent. Nowadays players are given every chance to prepare in foreign conditions and tours are far more regular. Despite that England's batting in these conditions has come nowhere since they were last here in 2007.

"I thought we showed in the second innings that technically there is a lot of skill in our dressing room against spin bowling but we didn't apply ourselves in the first innings
Andrew Strauss

When asked about whether England had a terminal problem, Mahela Jayawardene tried to be diplomatic. "They have lost four Tests in a row in these conditions against spinners so maybe, yes. It's about adapting I guess," he said. "It's all about conditions. They dictate things, it's not just the spin bowling it's how you play in certain conditions.

"It's been tough. Even though we beat them last time here it wasn't easy and today was nothing different. We had to work hard, so rather talking about England and how they can improve I'd rather talk about us getting better."

Trott showed what was possible by finally registering England's first Test hundred of 2012. It was an innings as masterful as Mahela Jayawardene's 180 in the first innings. In terms of elegance at the crease Trott and Jayawardene are not in the same bracket but that is of no significance apart from aesthetics. Instead of hoicking to midwicket like Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen or driving to cover like Samit Patel, Trott knuckled down and played to his strengths, learning from his mistake in the first innings when he was stumped and left lying on his back fearing a neck injury after a collision with wicketkeeper.

"Jonathan Trott's innings in particular was a huge exhibition of skill, technique and application and he certainly didn't deserve to be on the losing side," Andrew Strauss said. "Generally we left ourselves with too much to do in the fourth innings and that was a result of too many mistakes earlier in the game both in the field and with the bat.

"I don't think you need to be a rocket scientist to work out where things have gone wrong. We haven't got scores on the board and you're not going to win too many Test matches if that is the case. I thought we showed in the second innings that technically and gameplan-wise, there is a lot of skill in our dressing room against spin bowling but we didn't apply ourselves in the right manner in the first innings.

Jayawardene tried to stifle Trott with smart 6-3 leg-side fields that included two catching midwickets. Apart from a couple of early bat-pad shouts against Suraj Randiv, Trott was barely troubled by them until being smartly caught at leg slip by Tillakaratne Dilshan. The blow to firmly seal the demise. Up to then he had flicked, driven, cut and swept (and reverse swept) with more confidence than any England batsman in the last four Tests.

As England pick through another defeat Trott at least gives them a template to work from, not in terms of style - each player will always bat in a different way - but in terms of shot selection and judgement. But whether the others will learn in time for the second Test in Colombo is an entirely different proposition.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ian on April 1, 2012, 6:15 GMT

    @Greatest_Game: I am not usually a fan of stats as I think that they conceal as much as they reveal, but your intelligent dissection of the match at Galle is indeed extremely revealing! Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. It bears out my contention that Broad should not have played and it was irresponsible/risky of the tour selectors to go with him, although I can imagine they left it to him! ('Are you ready to go, Stuart?' -' Yep! I'm fine; it's just a niggle.' -' Good! That's great!') There is one place where the buck stops - and it's not with the player! The one thing that stats can't show is the effectiveness of the field-setting and how much that contributed to the SL victory (or England's defeat!), but it's my guess that run-scoring shots were more regularly played straight ot the fielder by Eng. than the reverse. In other words, the two Jayawardenes got better value for their efforts, because they found the gaps by using delayed, placement shots as did Trott alone for Eng..

  • Sean on March 30, 2012, 23:17 GMT

    No suprise that Englands best batsmen is actually South African. Perhaps the selectors should again look to South Africa for suitable replacements when places become available.

  • Sukumar on March 30, 2012, 10:01 GMT

    All the English who bashed India for maintaining No 1 rank for 18 months with advantage of playing in home conditions- Are you now ready to accept the fact that England is also a similar side who can only play well in seam-friendly wickets and not spin friendly wickets???

    At last India managed 18 months in No 1 spot, English managed 1/3rd of it only ... if they lose next match... Come on Strauss, score some runs atleast for your career sake!!!

  • Simon on March 30, 2012, 8:47 GMT

    While it's perhaps a little unfair on Patel after just one test i would drop him for Bresnan and bring in Finn for the injured Broad.

    While Bresnan isn't as good a batsman as Patel he has a lot of grit and fight about him. Also, another front line bowler will allow England to attack throughout.

  • Dru on March 30, 2012, 8:26 GMT

    Its a huge feather in Trotts cap. He has shown beyond any doubt that he is a class act on pace friendly conditions both in Eng and Aus but to make a 4th innings hundred anywhere is a serious challenge - in Galle on a spin frindly track, makes the achievement even more commendable. He is close to the complete batsman now I guess and his records speaks for itself. This doesnt mean he must score in the next game as well but that fact he was able to get a hundred in these conditions confirms what a class act he is.

  • StJohn on March 30, 2012, 8:18 GMT

    A strange winter so far. But stranger still because England should have won their last 3 Tests, each of which they've lost by the relatively close margin of about 70 runs (but a truly worthy No.1 side would have nailed these games). After so many years waiting for an England side to achieve its potential & become No.1, & after the disappointment of the false dawn in 2005, it's sad that England will probably lose the top spot so quickly & in such supine fashion. Dropping Jayawardene 4 times in the 1st inns was what really lost this game: catches win matches, as ever. The selection of Patel seems odd though: if Swann & Panesar aren't good enough between them, then how can a 3rd, less effective, spinner solve that? Bresnan has been so good in his Test career to date, with bat & ball, that it was churlish not to select him instead of Patel. All the talk of Strauss resigning is nonsense; he hasn't converted starts but his form's been better than Pietersen, Cook & Bell, at least, all winter.

  • Satish on March 30, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    @RJHB : England are as rubbish as India??? Come on mate.. India were No.1 for almost two years and won in NZ and drew in SA where conditions were absolutely alien plus won in WI too.. Though i am not critical of England team, it became a fashion for the guys to say things abt India in every forum.. Lets enjoy the game mate..

  • David on March 30, 2012, 5:02 GMT

    England's top order did not lose this test. Their top 6 bats totaled 337, beating Sri Lanka's 333. However, Eng's last 5 totaled 110 while SL's amassed 171. Innings 1: Eng's last 5 scored 90 to SL's 59. Innings 2: Eng's managed 20, to SL's 112. England's bowing match figures are bleak at 17 for 532 (ave 31.29) compared to SL's 20 for 457(ave 22.85) & Eng conceded 28 extras to SL's 10. Broad's 2 for 104 (econ @3.25) are the worst English bowling figures, & his 1 wide & 8 no-balls cost Eng 20 runs, & by reprieving Prasanna, gifted SL 44 more. The 9 balls that cost England 64 runs. (Bell, Eng's 2nd highest scorer, totaled 65!) Broad's profligate bowling and Cook's miserable batting (14 - only Patel [11] & Panesar [13] scored less, but they each took 2 wickets!) were the poorest individual English performances, and along with England's 2nd innings lower order capitulation - 5 for 18 - they sealed England's fate. Cook will rebound - Broad & Patel should be replaced for the 2nd test.

  • Rohanj on March 30, 2012, 3:50 GMT

    England are just as bad as India were as the number 1 test nation. And they are just as stubborn and powerless to improve on their weaknesses, despite having quite a number of world class players, just as India once did. And just like India, England have bought their own hype about how great they are because they can win well in familiar conditions. But unlike India, atleast England keep touring and don't spout rubbish like "wait til we get you on our pitches!" There's only one team at the moment who can truly say they don't mind touring and thats South Africa. They still have some of their own problems which is why they're not already number 1. None of you even go close to being what Australia were, and the Windies before them. Dream on pretenders!

  • aditya on March 30, 2012, 3:30 GMT

    i think indians have done reaklly well to reach the no 1 status think their performances b4 loosin their no1 status take it from 2003,almost won a series against aussies,victory in pakistan, victory at newzeland ,victory at westindies, perth victory(even though they are at loosing side), take it from perth 2007, afte the victory indians havent lost a single series till 2011 england tour 2008 to 2011 no series loss for india, where they have travelled all arround the world!!!! during tat period no other team has tat record, south africans came near but they lost the series at home, it is easy for non sub continent countries to copme and play spin, but it is always tough for asians to adapt to faster conditions!!!! considering the stats Indians have done really welll for threee years, tat shud be appriciated

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