The Over: Sri Lanka v England – Day 1

Well we all need a cold shower after that day of cricket – absorbing stuff as expected:

Samit Patel cemented his status today as England’s No. 1 spinner. On the first day of his Test career, Patel took two wickets, whereas neither Swanny nor Monty took any – we’ll gloss over the fact that both of the wickets were pretty awful missed sweeps (Chandimal’s was particularly inexcusable) and probably due to the fact that the SL batsmen were trying to up the pace against England’s fifth bowler. On a day when the spinners were pretty well countered by Jayawardene et al, Monty may have been the pick of the bunch, but Patel got the rewards (plus Monty’s very definitely in the doghouse elsewhere).

Monty Panesar can perhaps best be likened to a loveable puppy – everybody loves him, he’s got endless energy, as he’s got older he’s become less and less like an uncoordinated jumble of flailing limbs, but he’s never quite got over his old habit of crapping on the carpet when you have the neighbours round. Monty’s fielding had looked so much more convincing over the last few months – yes he’s never going to be Jonty Rhodes or Paul Collingwood swooping in the covers – but did at least look something like a professional sportsman in the outfield. However, it was back to square one today. If the first of the drops was perhaps not the most straightforward, the second was pretty simple even by village green standards. It does beg the question as to how such a talented and controlled bowler (an art that requires incredible coordination) can be such a liability in the field. Even old-timer Andrew Strauss produced a great bit of work to run out Randiv. That’s just Monty, we suppose…

Stuart Broad spent most of the day hobbling gently back to his mark – there’s no way he’s 100% fit. We realise he’s an important cog in the England team and provides balance, but how imperative was it that he played this Test given England’s reliance on two seamers? Perhaps they were hoping they would win the toss and Broady wouldn’t have had to bowl today. But how much of a wrench would it have been to put in the fresh colt that is Steve Finn? Or if they were really worried about the batting depth, Tim Bresnan? It may still prove to be the right team selection, but it looks to have been quite a risk with just the two quicks.

What can you say about Mahela Jayawardene’s innings apart from ‘Wow’? Admittedly Sangakkara is the only other top class batsman in the team, but Mahela made all the rest look like 7-year-olds, scoring 58% of the runs. The next highest score was 27. It wasn’t quite men against boys, given that England bowled pretty well, but it was man amongst boys.

Jimmy Anderson is slowly creeping up the all-time England wicket-takers’ list, now occupying joint fifth with the great Brian Statham and in fewer Tests to boot. He’s still got another 130 wickets or so to go to overtake one I.T. Botham, which might be a bit of a stretch (although not out of the question if he carries on playing for another three or four years), but Bob Willis’ 325 is looking eminently overtakeable.

Oh dear, the wicket’s turning on Day 1. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Ian Bell won’t get much sleep tonight, and any sleep he does get will involve troubled dreams of Shane Warne and Saeed Ajmal bowling endlessly on a sheet of corrugated iron in a timeless Test with 14 silly points and 8 short legs. And in the dream getting out won’t mean he can stop.

A quick final word on Vernon Philander, who today became the fastest bowler to fifty Test wickets since Tom Richardson 116 years ago. His fifty has included six five-fors and two ten-fors. We would list all the people he’s got there quicker than, but it’d take a long time, given that only two people have been as fast or faster than him.


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