From left: Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Matt Prior are their team’s last hopes © Getty Images
Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Matt Prior face a daunting task on Day Five at Headingley against Sri Lanka. They have to break it down into small targets to have any chance of doing the unthinkable, writes Nishad Pai Vaidya.
At 57 for five, in the face of a target over 350, England need something special; in fact, something extraordinary. On this very ground in 1981, Sir Ian Botham fashioned one of the most remarkable comebacks in Test history and it is etched in cricketing folklore ever since. England can take a lot of inspiration from that mythical Houdini Act going into the fifth day of the second Test against Sri Lanka. Three men hold the key: Matt Prior, Moeen Ali and Joe Root.
If England are to have absolutely any chance of getting close to the target, Root is the main gun. He is the man in form, having scored the double ton in the first Test. With that knock behind him, he has a measure of the Sri Lankan bowling. Besides, when compared to the other England batsmen, he has played Rangana Herath — who would be crucial on the Day Five surface — quite well so far. Having said all that, it is a Day Five surface and Root finds himself facing a humongous task. How he approaches it early on would be interesting.
In such situations, batsmen can only take every ball and keep the long term thoughts out of sight. It is important that they break it down into small parts as that makes the task much easier and relieves the pressure. You have to build your innings brick by brick. It may seem daunting, but is the best way to approach it. In that regard, Root is someone who could anchor the innings. With his calm approach, he needs to rebuild, set small targets and approach them positively.
Ali too faces a task in his second Test. He started off well to score 48 in the first innings at Lord’s, and since then has done his bit with the ball as well. Here is where he has to support Root and play his game in achieving those short term goals. Ali seems to be someone who can stay calm and that would complement Root well. In tandem, they have to rebuild and then perhaps think about going for the prize. It is far away in the horizon but they need a start somewhere.
Through that, it may be the perfect platform for Prior to silence the critics. Many questioned his selection for this Test series and suggested that England should look for alternatives after the disastrous Ashes series Down Under. However, Prior is an attacking batsman and can put pressure on the opposition with a good display. It is important for him to repay the selectors faith, and though the mountain is too high to climb, a spirited effort would do no harm.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka look good for their first series win in England (excluding the one-off Test victory in 1998). They have their plans in place and two men would be on the frontline: Dhammika Prasad and Herath. This duo would want to get rid of the three recognized batsmen soon to put their country on their way to victory.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_45)