3rd Test

England v Sri Lanka in England, 2011

Hugh Chevallier

At Southampton, June 16-20. Drawn. Toss: England. Test debut: H. D. R. L. Thirimanne.


Ian Bell continued his outstanding form with another confident innings, England v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Rose Bowl, June 19, 2011
Stepping on it: Ian Bell sails on towards a sublime unbeaten hundred. © Getty Images
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Flaming June! Heavy showers strafed the first-ever Test on the South Coast, delaying the start, hastening the end, and disrupting most of what came in between. Yet even the cats, dogs and stair rods that fell on all five days could not dampen the belief that a drier Rose Bowl might have hosted a classic. For Rod Bransgrove, Hampshire's irrepressible chairman, it was a personal triumph: the fulfilment of a dream that began when the county quit Northlands Road more than a decade before.

In the early years, the pitch was dogged by variable bounce. Grounds manager Nigel Gray was playing a long game, however, and since 2008 only Taunton and The Oval of the county headquarters have been friendlier to batsmen. But if there was a commercial temptation to produce a five-day banker, Gray belied his name and prepared a greenish pitch combining the true bounce of Perth and the lateral movement of Nottingham. And for Tremlett, Hampshire-born and bred, it proved perfect.

Steve Finn made way for a fit-again Anderson, while Tillekeratne Dilshan's broken thumb gave 21-year-old left-hander Lahiru Thirimanne a break of his own. In Dilshan's absence, Sangakkara warily resumed the captaincy - "a job that ages you very quickly", he called it - ten weeks after resigning. He also had to cope with the arrival of Sanath Jayasuriya, a former Sri Lankan captain and current ruling-party MP whose inclusion in the limited-overs side for an international swansong had made a mockery of objective selection.

When morning rain relented, Strauss leapt at the chance to field. Anderson bowled the first ball at the ninth Test venue in England (tenth including Wales and 105th worldwide) and soon removed Thirimanne. Broad, though, was suffering from England's Lord's malaise, straying down leg, or too short, or both. Not Tremlett: with the pitch a willing accomplice, he went hunting. Rarely has such a softly spoken man possessed such a bite. Thanks to his 6ft 7in, he gained so much bounce that there were more bruised fingers in the Sri Lankan team than at a bare-knuckle fight.

Rain looted more than half of day one, though Sri Lanka did limp to 81 for four. With Sangakkara (flashing intemperately) and Mahela Jayawardene (defeated by one that sprang from shy of a length and moved away) both gone, and with the tail beginning at No. 7, much rode on Prasanna Jayawardene and Samaraweera, who had joined forces at 39 for four.

The weather was unkinder still on the second day, when less than 24 overs survived. The batsmen, buffeted by a barrage of rising balls, sped things along either with hare-brained shots or, in Fernando's case, some judicious ones. He hit a Test-best unbeaten 39, while Jayawardene bolstered his reputation for good sense with a measured 43, even if a fatal slog-sweep to Swann's second ball undermined it. Tremlett bounded to his first Test six-for.

In reply to Sri Lanka's 184 (they were 117 for seven, and should have been dismissed for nearer 150) England lurched to 14 for two. Trott chased an angled ball just after Strauss, in two minds, poked to slip, undone cheaply by Welagedara for the third successive innings - and the 23rd time he had fallen to left-arm seam. Pietersen's much- debated problem had been playing across the line to left-arm spinners, but unlike Strauss he threw his left-handed monkey aside. He was the epitome of correctness: his first scoring shot was so clean and straight it rocketed to the boundary off the non-striker's stumps. And when left-arm spin was introduced, Pietersen immediately lashed Herath to extra cover for four.

At the other end, as he had been all winter and all spring, was Cook, in his 66th consecutive Test, an England record, surpassing Alan Knott and Ian Botham (see page 1316). He soon equalled another, becoming only the fourth England batsman to hit six successive Test scores of fifty or more. Cook and Pietersen were gone by the close of the third day, but at least they had offered something to a long-suffering sell-out Saturday crowd. Spectators had good cause to be irritated. As was now a Rose Bowl tradition, play had begun late - with the third day seeing more interruptions than a recording of Just a Minute. Everyone lost count of how often the covers went back and forth, the exhausted groundstaff seemingly bit-part actors caught in a futile world hovering somewhere between Groundhog Day and Waiting for Godot. Maddeningly, the sun shone on the clearing up only to disappear behind storm-clouds as play resumed; more maddeningly still, the best conditions were swallowed by the tea interval: "In hindsight," reflected umpire Rod Tucker, "we did make a small error in that we could have started tea straight away when we came off..."

Time was when the task of the England No. 6 was to eke out runs with the tail; Morgan (who batted one lower after a spry nightwatchman's innings from Anderson) now has to accelerate towards a declaration, though his cricketing nous across all formats suggests he could adapt to most roles. Even so, his intelligent, well-paced 71 was outshone by Bell, whose form matched Cook's stellar levels. Bell's unbeaten hundred, as startling for its sublime late cuts as its exquisite placement, was his fifth successive score of 50-plus. Mindful of an iffy forecast, England sacrificed late wickets in the hunt for runs, declaring shortly before tea on the fourth afternoon, 193 ahead. Although the Sri Lankans prised only occasional life from the pitch, many believed England's firepower would prevail. But there was no repeat of Cardiff: the dogged Thirimanne and the disciplined Sangakkara battled hard and, by the end of a full day's play - despite showers, the only delay came as the floodlights warmed up - Sri Lanka, three down, trailed by 81. Broad, apparently spurred on by being denied the new ball (and now bowling a fuller length) had produced a Tremlettesque delivery to remove Mahela Jayawardene.

Perhaps England never believed Monday would bring a result. They lost intensity, dropped half-chances, and failed to review a decision that should have removed the nightwatchman, Herath, whose innings was emblematic of their impotence. Broad limped off with a bruised heel, while a back niggle limited Tremlett to eight overs on the last day. Sangakkara, whose best shot initially was the leave, now leaned into drives and zinged pulls to the fence, righting a marked failure: this was his first Test hundred in Britain, at the 18th attempt, an innings ended when he drove Anderson's slower ball to Adam Rouse, an 18-year-old Zimbabwe-born wicketkeeper yet to play first-class cricket. Sangakkara's partnership of 141 with Samaraweera put paid to England's hopes.

The rain, which in all devoured 184 overs, swept in at tea, confirming the draw. In a kinder June, England would probably have won this Test, though they did claim the series 1-0. For the tireless groundstaff, there was pride in having produced a cracker of a pitch - and the prospect of some rest.

Man of the Match: C. T. Tremlett. Attendance: 46,209.
Men of the Series: England - C. T. Tremlett; Sri Lanka - H. A. P. W. Jayawardene.


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