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England would go home knowing this was very well their match to lose after the start given by Liam Plunkett. Abhijit Banare looks at the moments that changed the course of yet another absorbing Test match.
a) Stumps Day 2: England 320/6 bundled out for 365 next morning
b) Second session Day 4: 149 runs that snatched the match
c) Third session Day 4: Five wickets on a pitch that was called ‘flat’.
They say, it takes just one session to change the course of a Test match. Ask Brendon McCullum how his team slipped up early in the second Test against West Indies and were chasing the shadows for rest of the four days. But nothing could excuse England’s ability to consistently gift away the momentum right at the moment where they looked set to close the game.
The first of the three Test-losing effort came late on Day Four. You might as well point the disaster that followed next morning, but three quick wickets late on the second day saw them slip from 311 for three to 311 for six. It gave that window of opportunity for Sri Lankans to think that this game could still be beneath their feet. That thought turned in to a belief as skipper Angelo Mathews and Shaminda Eranga cleaned up the last four. The Lankan pacers have been exceptional on this tour but the wicket had no big trick held underneath to unsettle any batsmen. On such a wicket, a lead of 112 wasn’t threatening except the thought of James Anderson-Stuart Broad striking with new ball. In other words, England’s road to a Test series loss started from 311 for three with a lead of 54 runs.
After reducing the lead to 112, the Lankans had to show some mettle in their second essay. Throughout the series, their openers had successfully kept the new ball bowlers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad at bay. While the Lankans put up a spirited performance, England were very much in the match with six wickets to take and 106-run lead already in the bag for Lanka. After a see-saw battle in the first session, England were shooed out of the match by Mathews and Rangana Herath. While the Lankans were going well with their eighth wicket stand, a message on Twitter read: “You can blame the captain for his strategies, but you can’t criticise him for the way bowlers bowl”.
The pacers just didn’t feel it sensible to pitch it up. And Mathews was comfortable dealing with short balls. Combining the two, runs flowed from one end without any intention from the bowlers to get the Lankan skipper out. Meanwhile, Herath, who owned a rare record of bagging a king pair not too long ago, stuck with the skipper. There can always be space for argument but not being able to get a No 8 batsman for 81 deliveries will always put a question mark on the bowlers. The Lankans had landed a psychological blow with that record partnership and 349-run lead on board. What followed late on Day Four made Dhammika Prasad look at the same pedestal as Dale Steyn bowling on a green top.
Less than half an hour ago, the commentators who were discussing Herath as the only threat on a lifeless wicket for pacers were stunned. While Prasad maintained a good line, there was no excuse for the England batsmen to make the slowish pitch look like a first-day pitch. A day later, as Anderson crouched in disappointment, England would look back and say that even a mediocre performance from the batsmen would’ve sufficed compared to the one they eventually did. At the start of the chase, 350 was daunting but not impossible looking at the way the Lankans batted on the pitch. It was the Test were England did all that could go wrong at critical stages of the match.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)
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