Friday, 3 June 2011

Second Test Preview: Stumbling Sri Lanka v An unbalanced England

I can't help but agree with Nasser Hussain. It pains me to say it because his default method of point making - hammering away over and over again like a demented woodpecker - leaves me firstly reaching for the paracetamol and secondly, decidly illdisposed to his arguments. However, his observation, that the Sri Lankans were simply not mentally up to the demands of five days of Test cricket (even when about half that time had been spent watching the rain come down) seemed undeniable in view of Monday's ingnominous collapse.

The Sri Lankans themselves seem to have admitted as much. To be fair the situation they found themselves in on Monday is one of the toughest in Test cricket. Going out to bat without anything really to play for requires the strongest mental discipline. With no victory to seek or rearguard to fight, the intoxicting power of adrenaline is in short supply. A team primed on and for high octane limited overs games, came out flat as chapatis and were then further reduced to mere crepes following a superb spell from Chris Tremlett.

Tremlett's stock has risen to the point where he will lead England's attack in Jimmy Anderson's absence. The question of who should replace the Lancastrian at Lords tomorrow has provoked some strange thinking in my view. Prior to the second innings collapse, the general view was that a like for like replacement was required rather than the Tremlett/Broadesque Steven Finn. However, an excellent spell from Tremlett where he mixed up the odd short ball with those on a fuller length and lifters from Broad at the tail seem somehow to have changed the view. Finn seems set to play ahead of the more Anderson-like Jade Dernbach.

This seems just the sort of plan destined to bite one squarely on the backside. You throw all your eggs in one basket and it turns out to have a hole in the bottom. It just makes no sense. Even Mike Atherton seems in favour (et tu Bruti?), he argues that whilst variety is good, picking the next in line is better.

No value it seems is placed on the special skill of the swing bowler. Had Graham Swann been injured, would Finn been next in line then? The question is, I hope, rhetorical. If Dernbach is good enough to be in the squad, and being picked ahead of Shahzad suggest he is, then he must play.


Amongst the praise for Jonathan Trott there were, however, some slight rumblings about his pace of scoring. Batting so much with Alastair Cook probably hasn't helped this impression, but it is nonetheless true though that he is exceedingly well named. Nonetheless, as "Nas" pointed out once or seven times, five days of Test cricket is a long time. If you score 600 in two and half days, at a Trott like 2.2 an over, then, weather permitting, you still have that same amount of time again to bowl the other side out twice. Put simply, bat once and the speed of scoring becomes much less significant.

Cardiff was something of a freak result, but it is still the third match in a row, and the fourth in five games, that England have won whilst batting only once. In the process they have scored 620,513, 644 and 496. It may not be exciting cricket, and nor am I am advocating it as my preferred strategy, but it is, at the moment, demonstrably winning cricket.


The use of the UDRS was again a talking point at Cardiff. Overall third umpire Rod Tucker had a good match, showing a surprising and admirable willingness to do his job and make the big calls.

Kevin Pietersen was unlucky - pre UDRS he would have survived - but Tucker got the decision dead right. In the case of Prasanna Jayawardene, caught off the glove down the leg side, the evidence appeared less than conclusive at first. Tucker, however, trusted what he saw and what he heard (the sound was apparently clearer and easier to place in his box than on tv) and, after being made to confirm his judgement by the on field umpire, made the call, again correctly.

In the Sky commentary box, Nas questioned whether Tucker could be "100% certain" and suggested that if he wasn't, the batsman should get the benefit of the doubt. This is absurd. To reject an appeal on that basis would be to impose a ridiculous standard of proof. Men are routinely sent to the electric chair on less demanding grounds. Fortunately Billy Doctrove only required that he was sure. He didn't add "beyond a reasonable doubt" but we can take that as implicit. Perhaps it should be made explicitly so.

The only blot on Tucker's copy book came with his failure to uphold Andrew Strauss' low slip catch on the second day. We have seen such catches routinely rejected on replay and even though this was probably the most "out" one I have ever seen, it was hardly a great surprise to see Tucker follow a long line of third umpires in chickening out. As the honour system seems now to be a utopian dream, this issue could again be rectified by considering the burden of proof.

Countless tea-time demonstrations have shown that catches that look to have bounced haven't, for reasons of camera forshortening and two dimensional imagery. On this basis I propose cricket takes a leaf from rugby's book and allows the on field umpire to ask the question "Is there any reason I can't give this out". The third umpire would then have to find conclusive evidence, such as was the case with Phillip Hughes in the winter, to reject the claimed catch.

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