Two ducks descended on Lord’s yesterday during play on the fourth day of the second Test between England and Sri Lanka. They betokened a comment on the past – rain had delayed the start of play – and a prediction of a future event – some batsman was in for it.
Given an array of unlikely ifs, only 15 overs need have been lost by the delay. The ‘conditionals’ included no more rain, the light holding out and a decent over rate being maintained by both sides. Fat chance.
As Mahela Jayawardene and Samaraweera made their way to the wicket at just after 1pm, the contest was entering not so much the end of the beginning but the beginning of the end of the five day match with Sri Lanka 114 behind England and 7 wickets standing.
The loss of these seven wickets for only 107 runs meant that, where as England are safe from losing this Test, the Sri Lankans are not. So, it was England’s day.
In slightly warmer air the ball swung late and gave the sideways movement that makes even wayward bowlers dangerous. The Flying Finn took his haul to 4/108, once more proving that he has the gift of taking wickets.
Batsmen find Finn awkward. Even his waywardness, in creating uncertainty and unsettling the batsman, is part of the threat he poses. He became the youngest England bowler to reach fifty Test wickets, toppling Botham by 200 days from that lofty perch.
Tremlett menaced physically and psychologically, and like Statham, may be responsible for many more wickets than ever stand to his name.
Broad tends to take wickets in clusters, showing himself, for all the bluff and bluster, to be a confidence bowler. This day he was not on one of his rolls which are becoming less and less frequent.
Nor, unlike Tremlett, does Broad give the impression that he is contributing to wickets at the other end. His figures for the innings were 1/125 and his 35 match Test career stats are 103 wickets at an average of 35.
If Anderson is fit to return for the third Test, the selectors will have the task of either dropping one of these bowlers or going against their inclination to play six batsmen and Prior (who despite his hundred runs ended the day on a minus contribution having dropped Dilshan 113 runs before his eventual dismissal and having conceded a multitude of byes most but not all of them caused by wayward bowling).
Swann has calculated that he needs to push the ball through on this wicket with speeds in the late fifties (90kph) to maximize turn and perhaps to make the Lankans think twice about playing him off the pitch.
This makes those that do not turn even more dangerous and Strauss took a fine instinctive left handed catch at slip from one such delivery. The orthodox and attacking off-spinner returned figures of 3/101.
Beginning their second innings 7 runs ahead of their opponents, England lost Strauss LBW to Welegedara for one of those ominous ducks seen earlier. Cook and Trott took the England score on to 117 before Trott was bowled by the entertaining Herath for 58, leaving the stage set on day five for the next instalment of The Pietersen Saga.
The old Pietersen might take England rapidly to a lead of 300 and leave the Sri Lankans with another 50-over test of their tenacity.
Rain leaves a vacuum that the media abhors, so there has been considerable time over the last two days for them to bemoan the state of Test cricket with special attention being paid to the over rate. As the laws and conditions of play stand, a side is rewarded by taking their time to bowl. At high over rates teams could not possibly sustain attacks with just three pace bowlers.
Enforcement of 16 overs an hour, for instance, would alter the balance of sides who should have to play more quicks and/or find more all-rounders if they wished to keep up their batting resources.
Raising the over rate would probably eliminate the high scoring first and second innings and reduce the number of five day draws that bewilder those people who need to be won over to the fascination of Test cricket.
Slow over rates are, and should be seen as, tawdry tactics out of kilter with the Spirit of Cricket.
Boycott is right. A 10 run penalty should be introduced immediately. Bringing in the threat of penalty runs would not alter the ethos of the game. They would be avoided at all costs.
England are 156 ahead with 8 second innings wickets remaining. The not out batsmen are Cook 61 and Pietersen 15.