First Test

England v Sri Lanka

Stephen Fay

At Lord's, May 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. Drawn. Toss: Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka had won nine straight Tests when they took the field at Lord's, but English commentators still felt compelled to patronise them. The assumption was that their victories in Asia would be no guide to their form on damp days and seaming wickets in May. The absence of Muttiah Muralitharan, who was being treated for a dislocated shoulder in Melbourne after a bad fall in the field in an inconsequential one-day game in Sharjah, was commonly expected to be decisive. However, on the first day of the series the buds of May were blossoming and Lord's was like a summer idyll. The sun shone, the less than capacity crowd wore their lightest clothes, and the wicket was as flat as Norfolk. After two days of their first fairly full series in England, the only team with a realistic chance of winning was Sri Lanka, and the pundits had turned their attention to the elegance and fluency of their batsmen.

Hussain, who lost the toss for the 19th time in 22, led a team in which, dis-appointingly, no room was found for the promising young players who had graduated from the Academy in Adelaide; no Ian Bell or Alex Tudor, who had at least made the squad. The recall of Crawley and Cork brought cries of Dad's Army, although neither man had turned 31. Stewart's return at 39 was less controversial only because James Foster, his replacement in India, had broken his arm.

Sri Lanka chose to bat and started as their critics expected them to go on. Sanath Jayasuriya's series began disastrously when he misjudged a third run and was out for 18. Sangakkara edged Hoggard to slip, just as forecast, and Sri Lanka were 55 for two. But they had not studied the script, because nearly four hours later that was 261 for three and England were reeling.

Atapattu and Jayawardene batted sumptuously, displaying style and finesse in a stand of 206. Atapattu had already shown his skills before a Lord's audience, whereas Jayawardene was a revelation. He had eight Test centuries to his name, but this was statistical excellence made flesh. When he was on 47, a ball from Flintoff badly bruised his left hip. A runner was called for, but his power and precision did not desert him. Only the jingoists in the crowd were pleased when he was out for 107, playing Flintoff casually to Trescothick at short mid-wicket. At the close Sri Lanka were 314 for three and Duncan Fletcher had unkind words for all his bowlers bar Flintoff. Caddick, and England, had failed yet again when the tone needed to be set, but some of the responsibility lay with the management, who had taken a policy decision to bowl a full length: between them, Caddick and Hoggard bowled 75 full deliveries on day one, and they went for 103 runs.

The policy did not last into the second day, when the bowling was shorter, Sri Lanka added 241 runs less gloriously and Atapattu failed by only 15 to make his sixth Test double-century. De Silva dug in for 88 in one of his less attractive innings at Lord's. England's bowling figures were grim. Cork improved his with a couple of late wickets, but Caddick remained empty-handed and the most expensive of all was Hoggard, whom Hussain humiliated by taking him off after bowling the first over on day two. England lost Trescothick in the eight remaining overs and 329 runs were still needed just to save the follow-on.

But the openers would be back in again the next evening as England collapsed abysmally and failed by 81 runs to make Sri Lanka bat next. The weather had changed overnight and was sufficiently overcast and damp to delay the third-day start by 20 minutes. Butcher soon fell but Vaughan and Hussain took advantage of the benign wicket. Hussain had 11 boundaries in his 57, and there was no rational explanation for what happened after their stand of 106 was broken. Crawley said later that conditions overhead were difficult, but that did not explain Vaughan's undignified heave to fine leg, or the absence of any contribution from Stewart, Flintoff or Cork in what should have been a long batting order.

Sri Lanka's four-man seam attack - with only one right-hander (Buddhika Fernando) among them - had been competent, especially considering that Murali was not there to bowl his usual unfair share. Ruchira Perera was accused of chucking on both radio and TV during the day and at the end of the game his action was referred to the ICC, but his three wickets came from poor shots rather than illegal deliveries.

The result may well have been decided in the first 20 minutes of the bright, fine morning of the fourth day. Jayasuriya, at first slip, dropped Vaughan twice. Both were easy chances. His colleagues consoled their captain after the first, but left him alone after the second, presumably because he was inconsolable. Vaughan, who had apologised to his team-mates for his first-innings indiscretion, added 168 for the first wicket with Trescothick and made a fluent, upright second Test century; theirs were the only wickets to fall that day. England were effectively 41 for two and early wickets on the last morning might have set off a panic, but in the second over Jayasuriya sent four men to the boundary; three more patrolled the covers and there was just one slip. Sri Lanka had accepted the draw.

Butcher knuckled down, suppressing his natural game and taking six and a half hours to score 105. When he was out, the score was 432 and the game had been saved. England batted on to make their first 500 since January 1997 in Auckland (Sri Lanka's 500 had been their eighth in ten Tests), but showed little interest in putting their opponents under pressure. Thirteen overs were left when they finally declared and the only news was that Caddick, typically, bowled better second time around and Hussain declined to open with Hoggard. His confidence was a casualty of the First Test, but the greater casualty was Sri Lanka's ambition and self-belief.

Man of the Match: M. S. Atapattu

© John Wisden & Co