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England pulled off an astounding victory at Cardiff against Sri Lanka in a Test match on May 30, 2011. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the day when sheer self-belief had won a Test for England.
It was not supposed to be so: there was Kumar Sangakkara, with the aura of an emperor; Mahela Jayawardene, equipped with the rare gift of being atheistically brutal; Tillakaratne Dilshan, always full of innovations and destructive at the top; and Thilan Samaraweera, with his reassuring sagely presence to calm the middle-order.
Yet none of them worked.
So what really happened? Let us find out.
The first four days
It was Sri Lanka’s first Test under their new captain, Dilshan. It was also their first overseas Test without the presence of Muttiah Muralitharan in their line-up. England were firm favourites going into the first Test at Sophia Gardens, even after Dilshan decided to bat and put up a solid 93-run opening stand as Tharanga Paranavitana stonewalled to glory at the other end.
James Anderson took out Sangakkara and Jayawardene cheaply, and it took an 85-run fifth-wicket stand between Prasanna Jayawardene and the ever-reliable Samaraweera to bail Sri Lanka out of danger. Support also came from Thisara Perera [making his debut in the Test] and Rangana Herath — both of whom helped Prasanna put on fifty-run stands.
Prasanna eventually scored 112, and Sri Lanka’s rain-interrupted innings of 400 came to an end before the second evening. England were reduced to 47 for two the next morning, but a 251-run third-wicket stand between Alastair Cook (133) and Jonathan Trott (203) put England out of danger.
Whatever hope Sri Lanka had of making a comeback following the twin dismissals of Cook and Kevin Pietersen received a setback when Ian Bell came out with a flurry of strokes, dominating the 160-run fifth-wicket partnership with Trott. Day Four ended with England on 491 for five with Bell on 98 and Eoin Morgan on 14; there was no possibility of a result, more so because Anderson had been ruled out of the rest of the Test with a side strain.
Play eventually started an hour before tea, and Bell took a single off Farveez Maharoof’s first over; he chopped the last ball of the next over from Thisara to reach his hundred, and Strauss declared immediately. It seemed a token declaration, but perhaps the only possible sniff England could have had at victory.
Stuart Broad sent down a tight over to Paranavitana; Chris Tremlett, given the new ball in Anderson’s absence, conceded a single off his second ball. Back on strike, Paranavitana poked at one outside off-stump off the last ball of Tremlett’s over. The footwork was abysmal, he got nowhere close to the ball, and Strauss pouched an excellent low catch at first slip. First blood.
Dilshan started aggressively, punching Broad through cover for a four; when Tremlett came back for his second over, he induced another edge, but the ball raced past third slip to the fence. Dilshan was cramped for room in the next ball, which ballooned back to Tremlett.
A circumspect Dilshan called for a review. HotSpot confirmed a touch. The openers were back in the pavilion.
Sangakkara and Jayawardene saw Sri Lanka off to tea; both bowlers had bowled unchanged till Strauss introduced Graeme Swann at the last over before the interval. The Lankan duo — arguably the finest in the history of the country — had seen Sri Lanka to 32 for two at tea. They would be safe once they reached that 96-mark.
The key comment came from Trott. The English dressing-room knew that despite the early jitters, Sri Lanka had the situation under control, and were on the way to save the Test. “Just keep delivering,” were the words uttered by a man who would come back from an Ashes Down Under in two-and-a-half years.
And they delivered. Tremlett changed ends after tea, and induced another edge with the fifth ball of the session: Jayawardene poked at the ball as it left him, and Strauss caught the ball at first slip near his waist. The inroads were being created.
Strauss continued with Swann, deciding to give Broad a break. It was evident that Swann had to bowl through the final session with Broad and Tremlett operating at the other end. Anderson’s absence had robbed England off a bowler.
Tremlett continued with hostile pace, and the batsmen — even Sangakkara — were bothered by the variable bounce. He sent down over after over of uninhibited aggression, and Swann supported him well with his turn and bounce off the tricky surface. Samaraweera, the man who had dominated spin on dustbowls the way few others have, committed the crime of playing Swann from the safety of the crease: the ball kept low, took the edge, and that was that. Four down.
Then came the big wicket: Swann, renowned for dominating left-handed batsmen, tossed one up to Sangakkara; the great man probed at it, and the edge went to the anticipating hands of Strauss at first slip. The tourists had lost half their side, but more importantly, the man who could have played a role more significant than anyone else in Sri Lanka’s innings was back in the pavilion.
The Lankan challenge, however, was still on: they had Prasanna, top-scorer of the first innings, at the other end, and a group of bowlers who were more than handy at the other. One of them, however, bit the dust three balls later: Maharoof defended two balls, reached out for the third, edged it, called for the review, and headed back to the pavilion for a duck.
Perera, also a left-hander [much to Swann’s delight], kept out the last ball. Tremlett resumed from the other end and bowled a snorter that seemed to whizz past Prasanna’s gloves and thud into Matt Prior’s; the English fielders went up in unison, but Billy Doctrove turned the appeal down.
But then, Strauss was quick to react: the review was asked for, and the HotSpot did not reveal an edge; ultra slow-motion replays, however, showed that there had been the thinnest of deflections, and snickometer concurred to the replay; Prasanna was sent back to the pavilion.
With the score on 43 for seven, both men decided that taking the score past the 96-mark seemed an easier option than survival. Thisara, being the cleaner hitter, seized the initiative, smashing a straight-drive past Tremlett for four and upper-cutting the next for a brace.
Swann, perhaps delighted at the sight of another southpaw, tossed up the first ball of the next over, and Herath went for an ugly swipe. He misread the top-spinner completely as the ball sped on to his pads after pitching. Swann’s figures read 5-1-4-4 at this stage, 52 for eight read a rather sorry story for the tourists.
Thisara decided to have a serious go, and played three booming drives off Tremlett for boundaries in a single over, taking the score to 64. Ajantha Mendis responded at the other end, cover-driving Swann to the fence, and Strauss summoned Broad to replace a tired Tremlett.
Mendis steered Swann for a couple and swept the next ball to take Sri Lanka past eighty, and after he glanced Broad for a single, Thisara tried an almighty pull. He never connected, and Bell, fielding at short-leg, dived forward to come up with a spectacular catch to end the 30-run partnership.
Suranga Lakmal, certainly not among the best batsmen of the side, kept out a screamer from Broad. The fast bowler dug one short, and the outcome was too good for Lakmal; he simply avoided being hurt, and the ball lobbed to Cook in the slips. Broad leapt in ecstasy, the men huddled, and Tremlett, tall, gangly, overlooked Tremlett, led England off the field with a stump as a souvenir.
History will remember the victory as one triggered by belief, a willingness to push for a result, some quality bowling, and relentless aggression; it is sad that of the eleven men only two may be playing as Sri Lanka take on England in June.
- Sri Lanka saved the Test at Lord’s; play was called off when they had reached 127 for three chasing 343.
- They saved the rain-affected third Test at Rose Bowl as well, thanks to some excellent rearguard action from Sangakkara and Samaraweera.
- England went on to whitewash India 4-0 in the second half of the summer.
Sri Lanka 400 (Tharanga Paranavitana 66, Tillakaratne Dilshan 50, Thilan Samaraweera 58, Prasanna Jayawardene 112; James Anderson 3 for 66, Graeme Swann 3 for 78) and 82 (Graeme Swann 4 for 16, Chris Tremlett 4 for 40) lost to England 496 for 5 decl. (Alastair Cook 133, Jonathan Trott 203, Ian Bell 103*) by an innings and 14 runs.
Man of the Match: Jonathan Trott
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