Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test, Colombo, 2nd day April 4, 2012

Batsmen climb the learning curve

England strove to show they have learned their lessons after the winter's disappointments - yet they have lost from a position of strength before
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England know their reputation has taken a battering in the last few months. Even if they do win this Test and retain their No. 1 status, which is now a distinct possibility, too much has gone badly in the first few months of this year to put it all in the past with a single success. However, it would allow them to return home with some evidence that lessons have been learned and their efforts over the first two days at the P Sara Oval have shown they will expend every drop of energy to end the run of defeats.

First it was the bowlers - as ever, outstanding - before something different began to emerge. The batting line-up was given a platform as Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook added 122. Their previous best this year was 48. Outwardly it was not a partnership to send the crowd into raptures but, given that the stadium was packed with England fans, it did just that, after the collapses they have sat through. Each milestone - the fifty, the hundred, Strauss' fifty and Cook's fifty - was greeted with acclaim ranging from hearty applause to a standing ovation.

"It was a very good day," Graeme Swann said. "Four wickets quickly and cheaply was important, but probably more importantly for the vibe in dressing room was a solid start and we are delighted how it's panned out. We've had some very good days scuppered by bad ones and this was probably the most complete day."

One the problems for the England batting line-up has been finding the happy medium between attack and defence. It went horribly wrong in the first innings in Galle but Jonathan Trott's century in the second was the perfect template to work from. In Strauss and Cook there were two batsmen with the ideal game to follow suit.

Both of them, but especially Cook, are at their best when they bat time and wear the bowlers down. Some might call it old fashioned and it is a trait that is seen less and less in Test cricket these days. The value of a wicket has seemingly been reduced or the balance of risk and reward has altered. That is not bad thing - Test cricket now is as entertaining as it has ever been - but there is still a place for graft.

Not everyone will play like Strauss and Cook. On the third day Kevin Pietersen will get a chance to bat and is likely to try and dominate, so too Ian Bell and Matt Prior. But that is more their natural game. Crucially, Strauss and Cook kept the strike rotating. It took Rangana Herath, the matchwinner in Galle with 12 wickets, 16 overs to bowl a maiden. Although both openers are left-handed, so a change of line is not an issue for the bowler, plans still need to be adjusted each time they swap ends.

Tellingly, too, the batsmen were far less reliant on the sweep. It was not until the 39th over that one was played - by Strauss - although Cook did later go against the grain by unfurling a reverse sweep. Swann, though, said there had not been any team discussions about leaving aside a shot that contributed to England's downfall in Galle.

"We have worked on things we should and shouldn't do but the sweep is valid if executed to the right ball. That was the point some of the batsmen, including me, missed in last game and sweeping the wrong one can make you look a mug. It would be very dangerous to disregard the shot. It's a pain for the bowler if the bloke's sweeping."

This was also a truer reflection of the strengths of Sri Lanka's bowling attack. That is not meant as a slight on any of them, but the lowest average is Herath's 32. They are honest and hardworking, not world-beaters. The two seamers, Dhammika Prasad and Suranga Lakmal who average 61 and 57 respectively, kept plugging away but were nowhere near matching the threat of England's.

"We bowled well in patches," Angelo Mathews said, "but we were not consistent enough. The pitch is quite tough to score on but we need to get some early wickets in the morning to claw them back."

England have to been wary about letting the position slip. This is a very similar situation to the one they found themselves in against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. After being humbled in three days during the first Test they then bowled out Pakistan for 257 and were 166 for 1 with Cook and Trott together. That was also when they had managed their only previous wicketless full session this year, before Strauss and Cook batted between lunch and tea here.

Yet from that position of strength England could not keep hold. The lead was restricted to 70 and chasing 145 on wearing pitch proved far too much as they crumbled for 72. This is not the first time England have been in a good position to win a Test in recent months. The next three days will show how many lessons have really been learnt.

Edited by Alan Gardner

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on April 5, 2012, 12:31 GMT

    @spelele Wow, your predictions are even better than Sir Beefys! Wonder if you may disappear from the comments for a while.

    "I predict a collapse of Eiffel Toweresque proportions"

  • JG2704 on April 5, 2012, 9:51 GMT

    @A_Vacant_Slip on (April 04 2012, 22:08 PM GMT) Thanks for the comms. We're now 22 behind with Trott just departing so hopefully even our batting line up will be able to build an inns from here. Also it might be a good thing that Trott - rather than KP - has gone because if KP stays he'll push the game further forward

  • guptahitesh4u on April 5, 2012, 9:50 GMT

    The good thing for Eng is that there bowlers have done a great job in all 5 matches (3 against PAk and two against SL). Although SL and PAK does not have a stronger batting line-up, it is good to see the overseas bowlers performing well in sub-conintent. The real challenge for their bowler will be against India as they have much stronger batting line-up and tracks in india are more batting friendly than SL for sure.

  • JG2704 on April 5, 2012, 7:50 GMT

    @SICHO on (April 05 2012, 03:57 AM GMT) I see we're getting some SA anti threads now. Britpop was only responding to one of your fans posts who on a rare day where Eng pretty much dominate can't find a single word of praise for England and can only say how boring they were to watch.As you say it's often steel and grit above flair which wins you tests. I would disagree with you about Smith being better as a leader too. I'd say on paper SA have a better side - everyone says how much they deserve number 1 status and how much better their side is than England. If that's the case how come SA are drawing so many series , of their last 5 HOME series they have won only 2.And if Eng are so lacking (as many say) then Strauss must have done alot right to guide us to no1 Also felt that his 3rd test declaration vs NZ was unambitious/ too slow coming and if Eng do win this test might have cost SA outright no 1 status. SA are a tough,decent side and I'm not slating them or Smith at all.

  • mikey76 on April 5, 2012, 6:49 GMT

    @Priceless1. Yep 172 wickets at 28 in 41 tests is really ordinary. Six 5 wicket hauls outside of England is also very ordinary. When he has 400 wickets I suppose he will still be ordinary. Jealousy is the only word I can think of to describe that comment. And you definitely are priceless my friend.

  • soumyas on April 5, 2012, 6:31 GMT

    well they may be No.1, but they are no where near to dominating australians of 1999-2008, when gilchrist,punter,haden,symmonds,warne,mcgrath,bevan.husseys were playing. they won almost everywhere, in almost every conditions. i remember match against them used to be one sided always.

  • on April 5, 2012, 6:05 GMT

    Sri Lankan Idiot selectors paid the penalty of dropping Shamindra Eranga..the best srike bowler available for Sri Lanka.....Even Nuwan Kulasekara would have been handy than Lakmal & prasad....I can not understanding with a bowling avaerage over 60 per wicket..I am wondering...How canSuranga Lakmal is always being the first choice fast bowler of Sri lanka...Hometown may be the reason....

  • priceless1 on April 5, 2012, 5:28 GMT

    Before the series starts i said Lankan players are the weakest against Spin .in the first innings it didnt get highlighted because of Mahela but in this test its clearly shows .apart from Sanga and Mahela no other batsmen in SL knows how to play spin ,This is why Swann ( who really is an ordinary bowler without any variations) so far having a great series with the ball ....

  • jmcilhinney on April 5, 2012, 5:02 GMT

    @landl47, that makes perfect sense. A lot of people have been talking about England not being able to play on the subcontinent but most of the current team either hadn't even tried or at least hadn't tried lately. I'd suggest that at the very least we should have one winter tour against a subcontinent opponent every two years. The only way to improve is to keep at it. The batting so far this game has been of a quite different character to what we've seen in the least four games so that's a good sign. Hopefully those lessons can be carried over to India next winter but if there's no more tours to the subcontinent for years after that then those lessons will likely be of little value the next time around.

  • SICHO on April 5, 2012, 3:57 GMT

    @Brittop oohhh..... So you think the SA batting line up is boring? Come on without Cook & Trott in the batting line up there's no resistance and the so called "best" captain in the world cannot lead by himself look at Smith as an example although he has a bad record in the 1st innings but he is far better than Strauss as a leader, he scores runs when needed. @fifthman, don't forget that the match was played for only 3 full days while the first 2 were ruined by rain, the so called "no. 1" haven't won match after becoming "no. 1" and have lost 4 in a row, is this some kind of record?

  • on April 5, 2012, 12:31 GMT

    @spelele Wow, your predictions are even better than Sir Beefys! Wonder if you may disappear from the comments for a while.

    "I predict a collapse of Eiffel Toweresque proportions"

  • JG2704 on April 5, 2012, 9:51 GMT

    @A_Vacant_Slip on (April 04 2012, 22:08 PM GMT) Thanks for the comms. We're now 22 behind with Trott just departing so hopefully even our batting line up will be able to build an inns from here. Also it might be a good thing that Trott - rather than KP - has gone because if KP stays he'll push the game further forward

  • guptahitesh4u on April 5, 2012, 9:50 GMT

    The good thing for Eng is that there bowlers have done a great job in all 5 matches (3 against PAk and two against SL). Although SL and PAK does not have a stronger batting line-up, it is good to see the overseas bowlers performing well in sub-conintent. The real challenge for their bowler will be against India as they have much stronger batting line-up and tracks in india are more batting friendly than SL for sure.

  • JG2704 on April 5, 2012, 7:50 GMT

    @SICHO on (April 05 2012, 03:57 AM GMT) I see we're getting some SA anti threads now. Britpop was only responding to one of your fans posts who on a rare day where Eng pretty much dominate can't find a single word of praise for England and can only say how boring they were to watch.As you say it's often steel and grit above flair which wins you tests. I would disagree with you about Smith being better as a leader too. I'd say on paper SA have a better side - everyone says how much they deserve number 1 status and how much better their side is than England. If that's the case how come SA are drawing so many series , of their last 5 HOME series they have won only 2.And if Eng are so lacking (as many say) then Strauss must have done alot right to guide us to no1 Also felt that his 3rd test declaration vs NZ was unambitious/ too slow coming and if Eng do win this test might have cost SA outright no 1 status. SA are a tough,decent side and I'm not slating them or Smith at all.

  • mikey76 on April 5, 2012, 6:49 GMT

    @Priceless1. Yep 172 wickets at 28 in 41 tests is really ordinary. Six 5 wicket hauls outside of England is also very ordinary. When he has 400 wickets I suppose he will still be ordinary. Jealousy is the only word I can think of to describe that comment. And you definitely are priceless my friend.

  • soumyas on April 5, 2012, 6:31 GMT

    well they may be No.1, but they are no where near to dominating australians of 1999-2008, when gilchrist,punter,haden,symmonds,warne,mcgrath,bevan.husseys were playing. they won almost everywhere, in almost every conditions. i remember match against them used to be one sided always.

  • on April 5, 2012, 6:05 GMT

    Sri Lankan Idiot selectors paid the penalty of dropping Shamindra Eranga..the best srike bowler available for Sri Lanka.....Even Nuwan Kulasekara would have been handy than Lakmal & prasad....I can not understanding with a bowling avaerage over 60 per wicket..I am wondering...How canSuranga Lakmal is always being the first choice fast bowler of Sri lanka...Hometown may be the reason....

  • priceless1 on April 5, 2012, 5:28 GMT

    Before the series starts i said Lankan players are the weakest against Spin .in the first innings it didnt get highlighted because of Mahela but in this test its clearly shows .apart from Sanga and Mahela no other batsmen in SL knows how to play spin ,This is why Swann ( who really is an ordinary bowler without any variations) so far having a great series with the ball ....

  • jmcilhinney on April 5, 2012, 5:02 GMT

    @landl47, that makes perfect sense. A lot of people have been talking about England not being able to play on the subcontinent but most of the current team either hadn't even tried or at least hadn't tried lately. I'd suggest that at the very least we should have one winter tour against a subcontinent opponent every two years. The only way to improve is to keep at it. The batting so far this game has been of a quite different character to what we've seen in the least four games so that's a good sign. Hopefully those lessons can be carried over to India next winter but if there's no more tours to the subcontinent for years after that then those lessons will likely be of little value the next time around.

  • SICHO on April 5, 2012, 3:57 GMT

    @Brittop oohhh..... So you think the SA batting line up is boring? Come on without Cook & Trott in the batting line up there's no resistance and the so called "best" captain in the world cannot lead by himself look at Smith as an example although he has a bad record in the 1st innings but he is far better than Strauss as a leader, he scores runs when needed. @fifthman, don't forget that the match was played for only 3 full days while the first 2 were ruined by rain, the so called "no. 1" haven't won match after becoming "no. 1" and have lost 4 in a row, is this some kind of record?

  • landl47 on April 5, 2012, 3:07 GMT

    I think the main lesson to be learned from the tests against Pakistan and Sri Lanka is that England must tour the subcontinent more often. A couple of test matches against Bangladesh was the only test cricket England played in the subcontinent between 2008 and 2012. It's a very different game, requiring different skills, and England didn't adjust fast enough. The bowling has been good, though a couple of times the opposition has got crucial runs from the lower order, but the batsmen have shown a lack of technique on these pitches. There have been too many out sweeping, trying to hit square or playing back when they should have been forward. They have the ability (look at the scores they have racked up in England and Australia) so it's a question of adjustment and they needed more experience in these conditions. I hope the ECB will schedule tours to the subcontinent more frequently in future.

  • A_Vacant_Slip on April 4, 2012, 22:08 GMT

    @JG2704. Adele on the pitch!!?? Oh, I get it.... the fat lady sings! ha ha ha! @Spelele is comedy guy all right - but your jokes are funnier!!! @IndnCrktfan - nice comm. Good to see India fan making sense here. There are so many who do not. Oh so many...

  • Reef08 on April 4, 2012, 21:42 GMT

    Great article, thanks very much. I enjoyed reading it

  • JG2704 on April 4, 2012, 21:26 GMT

    @voma on (April 04 2012, 15:10 PM GMT) Indeed , big credit to our bowlers once more and after the 1st test it was good that they stopped the SL tail from wagging this time.I still wonder - with the success Swann had - if Monty had played in tandem whether we might have bowled them out quicker/cheaper.It's good to get the usual world service reminder service about how are batsmen might/will collapse etc.@mikey76 on (April 04 2012, 16:26 PM GMT) I was thinking we had started learning in the OD series with Pak and was actually alot more confident in this SL series. Now , Until I see Adele get on the pitch , I won't be taking anything for granted. Another worry is that Sanga is due some runs.

  • JG2704 on April 4, 2012, 21:10 GMT

    @Spelele - I see that your post was so good you've decided to post the exact same thing on 2 of our threads. If it was all that boring , why are you making such a big deal about it? Oh by the way , if my SA stats which I posted on the other thread related to the 2nd day's cricket are incorrect and SA have won more than 3 of the last 7 test series then please feel free to pull me on it.

  • Long-Leg on April 4, 2012, 21:09 GMT

    @IndnCrktfan: I couldn't agree with you more and it is great to hear an Indian fan defend test cricket on the day when the IPL begins. A two test series is ridiculous. It is also ridiculous that the two teams vying for no 1 spot (England and South Africa) only get a three test series in July and August. And why are the Australians touring England in the summer for a pointless series of one day matches? It is time that the ICC realised that test cricket is the highest form of the game and if they scheduled it properly and promoted it well it would flourish.

  • StatisticsRocks on April 4, 2012, 20:01 GMT

    @Spelele: You must be kidding mate. You are the talking about the same SA side and the same Aus side that were bowled out for 96 and 47 respectively as recent as Nov of 2011. Thsi is what test cricket is all about. Grind your way out and show how you can play spin after losing 4 straight to spin. I am sure Trott and Bell would also bat well tomorrow. Cant wait for an exciting finish.

  • brittop on April 4, 2012, 19:22 GMT

    @spelele: You're the one kidding - SA's batting line-up is the most boring of all. Only AB is not a plodder.

  • on April 4, 2012, 19:16 GMT

    You can never bank upon the English batters in the sub-continent. May be 86 all out in the second innings.

  • Fifthman on April 4, 2012, 18:22 GMT

    @Spelela - last time I checked , the Eiffel Tower was still standing. And this stuff is rich coming from a Saffa - the team that's so scared of its own shadow it doesn't even trust itself to bowl out NZ in the 4th innings...

  • on April 4, 2012, 18:11 GMT

    Seems like we have a sore aussie/sa fan here: Spelele. England have been dire but when your lineup is out of form you need to bat slowly to get your grove back in. Also, give credit to England's bowling attack, equal to South Africa's. We have better depth in our spin department (Tahir hasn't proven himself) while your pace attack probably tips ours.

  • voma on April 4, 2012, 17:27 GMT

    @Spelele , why take risks ? . Its only the 2nd day of a test match ! . I take it your a South Africa fan , and yes they are a very exciting team to watch . But come on , they have had there fair share of collapses . The ODI world cup being a prime example , against who ? . Err England

  • StatisticsRocks on April 4, 2012, 16:28 GMT

    I believe there should be atleast 5-test match series and not less than that. Its a joke to play 2 or 3 test matches as IMO, no matter how good one is, it is not easy to get adjusted to the conditions, not just the pitches but also climate, culture, food etc. I dont know what ICC thinks or how these test matches gets scheduled but someone needs to step up to put an end to this short series in the future.

  • mikey76 on April 4, 2012, 16:26 GMT

    Its definitely a truism that you learn more from your mistakes. I think these guys will have learnt a great deal from this winter and become better players for it. If they play like this in India then I think we will have a great chance with the way the bowlers are going. Time will tell.

  • voma on April 4, 2012, 15:10 GMT

    A good day for England , but its still to early to call . A batting collapse is never that far away from any English team in asia ! . But Anderson and Swann have been brilliant again , im thinking its time to bring in a new younger batsman for the summer series .

  • Damo_s on April 4, 2012, 14:36 GMT

    Its about time Cook and Strauss formed a decent opening stand. However, England also need the same class of application from KP / Bell / Prior, which is a little disconcerting given current form, in order to stamp authority on this test.

  • Spelele on April 4, 2012, 14:32 GMT

    Hahaha! You gotta be kidding me Andrew! England's show today was a very boring and laboured display of some of the most uninteresting batting to have ever been seen in the 20th to the 21st centuries. What a waste! Shows that this average team can never be considered to be the real number one. While the Australian classy batting line-up of the famous Waugh Aussies would have attacked this military Srilankan attack, this average English (and South African - whichever way you look at it) line-up is busy huffing and puffing while going nowhere slowly. Lol, how they wish they could have batsmen like AB, Amla and even Petersen and Rudolph who know how to put spinners in their place. I predict a collapse of Eiffel Toweresque proportions tomorrow. Srilanka will then come in and bat horribly (like they've done all tour - save for Mahela), only to set England a moderate total of 150 odd. England will then get rolled over on a cracking pitch on Day 4 - 5. Watch this space!

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  • Spelele on April 4, 2012, 14:32 GMT

    Hahaha! You gotta be kidding me Andrew! England's show today was a very boring and laboured display of some of the most uninteresting batting to have ever been seen in the 20th to the 21st centuries. What a waste! Shows that this average team can never be considered to be the real number one. While the Australian classy batting line-up of the famous Waugh Aussies would have attacked this military Srilankan attack, this average English (and South African - whichever way you look at it) line-up is busy huffing and puffing while going nowhere slowly. Lol, how they wish they could have batsmen like AB, Amla and even Petersen and Rudolph who know how to put spinners in their place. I predict a collapse of Eiffel Toweresque proportions tomorrow. Srilanka will then come in and bat horribly (like they've done all tour - save for Mahela), only to set England a moderate total of 150 odd. England will then get rolled over on a cracking pitch on Day 4 - 5. Watch this space!

  • Damo_s on April 4, 2012, 14:36 GMT

    Its about time Cook and Strauss formed a decent opening stand. However, England also need the same class of application from KP / Bell / Prior, which is a little disconcerting given current form, in order to stamp authority on this test.

  • voma on April 4, 2012, 15:10 GMT

    A good day for England , but its still to early to call . A batting collapse is never that far away from any English team in asia ! . But Anderson and Swann have been brilliant again , im thinking its time to bring in a new younger batsman for the summer series .

  • mikey76 on April 4, 2012, 16:26 GMT

    Its definitely a truism that you learn more from your mistakes. I think these guys will have learnt a great deal from this winter and become better players for it. If they play like this in India then I think we will have a great chance with the way the bowlers are going. Time will tell.

  • StatisticsRocks on April 4, 2012, 16:28 GMT

    I believe there should be atleast 5-test match series and not less than that. Its a joke to play 2 or 3 test matches as IMO, no matter how good one is, it is not easy to get adjusted to the conditions, not just the pitches but also climate, culture, food etc. I dont know what ICC thinks or how these test matches gets scheduled but someone needs to step up to put an end to this short series in the future.

  • voma on April 4, 2012, 17:27 GMT

    @Spelele , why take risks ? . Its only the 2nd day of a test match ! . I take it your a South Africa fan , and yes they are a very exciting team to watch . But come on , they have had there fair share of collapses . The ODI world cup being a prime example , against who ? . Err England

  • on April 4, 2012, 18:11 GMT

    Seems like we have a sore aussie/sa fan here: Spelele. England have been dire but when your lineup is out of form you need to bat slowly to get your grove back in. Also, give credit to England's bowling attack, equal to South Africa's. We have better depth in our spin department (Tahir hasn't proven himself) while your pace attack probably tips ours.

  • Fifthman on April 4, 2012, 18:22 GMT

    @Spelela - last time I checked , the Eiffel Tower was still standing. And this stuff is rich coming from a Saffa - the team that's so scared of its own shadow it doesn't even trust itself to bowl out NZ in the 4th innings...

  • on April 4, 2012, 19:16 GMT

    You can never bank upon the English batters in the sub-continent. May be 86 all out in the second innings.

  • brittop on April 4, 2012, 19:22 GMT

    @spelele: You're the one kidding - SA's batting line-up is the most boring of all. Only AB is not a plodder.