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

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

  • Dummy4 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"

  • John 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

  • Hitesh 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.

  • John 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.

  • michael 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.

  • Dummy4 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....

  • Amila 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 ....

  • John 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.

  • Sello 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?

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