England 193 (Bell 52, Herath 6/74)
& 264 (Trott 112, Herath 6/97, Randiv 4/74)
Sri Lanka win by 75 runs
A much more determined batting performance by England put them within sight of victory before the lower order crumbled into the Galle dust and handed Sri Lanka a famous triumph.
On a day where England finally showed some fight with the bat, their efforts were epitomised by a quite brilliant hundred from Jonathan Trott. It wasn’t as flowing as Mahela Jayawardene’s earlier in the game but it was almost as important and seemed, for a while, as if it would be a match-winning one. Having lost Kevin Pietersen early England could well have subsided had Trott also fallen in the morning session, instead he fought hard, along with Matt Prior, to take his side within touching distance of the target. Sri Lanka perhaps allowed him to accumulate runs too easily – exactly half of his first 100 runs came in singles – but on a pitch where no other England batsman faced more than 88 balls in the match, Trott saw off 266 and lasted over five and a half hours. By the time he clipped Randiv to leg slip the game had already run off with their opponents and it was a dismissal borne out of sheer exhaustion more than anything else. To successfully chase over 300 there needs to be a couple of big scores and whilst Trott was given brief spells of support by Pietersen and Prior, there was nothing substantial enough from the other end to take England home.
There was one partnership which looked to be tilting the game significantly in England’s favour; Trott and Prior were beginning to control the game, even after the new ball had been taken, but just as their supporters started to believe, the curse of the sweep shot struck again. In all, five English batsman fell to that shot in the match, of which all but one was LBW, but it was that one which proved to be critical. Prior seemed to be pushing the pace as the home side felt the pressure for the first time, and his eyes lit up as another loopy delivery came floating out of Rangana Herath’s hand. The sweep is Pandora’s box to England. They shouldn’t touch it, but they just can’t help themselves. And alas, their ‘keeper was down on one knee, and here it was again. To be fair to him, at least he actually hit it, which is more than can be said for most, but unfortunately he clobbered it straight into Lahiru Thirimanne’s chest at short leg. It stuck. It was the wicket that finished England; they subsequently lost their last five wickets for 31 runs.
With the second Test in Colombo getting under way on Tuesday, there isn’t a great deal of time for rest, recuperation or reflection before these two sides do battle again. For Sri Lanka that isn’t really a problem; the openers will need to perform better on a much better surface in that game but they are extremely unlikely to make changes.
If only the same could be said for England. Their winter batting averages are a complete mess (Trott has motored to the top of that particular chart with a breathtaking average of 35) while Stuart Broad is carrying both an ankle injury and a calf strain. Samit Patel bowled reasonably but batted like the lovechild of Usman Afzaal and Aftab Habib, and Monty Panesar couldn’t have looked less threatening if he tried. It seems strange to constantly talk of changes to the bowlers when the batsmen aren’t getting any runs, but, put simply, there are so few options with the bat that it’s difficult to see altering that fixing anything. Ravi Bopara doesn’t exactly define discipline and confidence, and the only other possibility would be to pick back-up ‘keeper Steven Davies as a specialist batsman in a move which would not so much smell of panic as spit it straight into your face. Both Pietersen and Bell have terrible winter stats, though the latter looked much improved here, yet it is the captain who must surely be under most pressure. Whereas the rest of the top order have stored up enough credit in recent times to permit them a bad spell, Andrew Strauss’ bad spell has lasted almost three years now; his century in Brisbane remains his only triple-figure score since July 2009. The fact he’s the leader makes this a more difficult issue, but one thing is for certain: if he fails again next week a decision is going to have to be made.