This post also appears at spincricket.com.
The Final Over of the Day series of columns does not attempt to summarise nor report its subject, but to capture six points (six deliveries if you will) that you might miss if you only read the many excellent sites that do report a day’s play. It’s sometimes published before a day is over, but it’s still a 91st over for you to enjoy like the 90 that inspire it. There will be more “final overs” later in this Test and over the summer now on the horizon.
Ball One (SL 0-0) – Tickets are available at £25 – £35 for a day’s play – not, in itself, pricey for international sport, even for a venue whose facilities might generously be referred to as “quaint”. For England fans, attendance for the whole Test will cost about the same as a day’s play at Lord’s, but for a local, the context is rather different. That Galle International Stadium has been transformed into St John’s Wood on Sea may well please the men in suits, but is does nothing for the men in sarongs, left peering through the wire fences or, worringly for the future of a game that worries, finding more welcoming environments elsewhere. (Rumour has it that some locals have found a way in without paying the full ticket price – nothing would surprise me).
Ball Two (SL 11-2) – Anderson on a hat-trick having lured Sangakkara into a shot that betrayed the influence of the ODI cricket he was playing last Tuesday. Even on the hat-trick, Jimmy Anderson could not get his mid-on moved to fourth slip. Quite why captains have to stick so rigidly to the playbook is beyond me.
Ball Three (SL 15-3)– Frenetic start from Sri Lanka sees them lose three key wickets with most of the runs coming from slashes through the slips. Is it fair to ask a side to play Test cricket less than a week after playing ODI cricket in another country? It should never be the case that countries hosting Test series should be denied the preparation enjoy.ed by their tourists.
Ball Four (SL 27-3) – Sport is not short of unexamined orthodoxies and cricket has its fair share. One that riles me is positioning mid-off and mid-on. England had given away just four runs in six and a half overs when Jayawardene was allowed to push an easy single to Stuart Broad, slightly on his heels, but five yards too deep at mid-off to prevent the strike being rotated. With Samaraweera almost strokeless in the middle of a 31 ball wait to get off the mark. England got a lot right in the first hour of play – but the complexity of Test cricket is such that it’s almost impossible to get everything right. Except from the boundary of course..
Ball Five (Lunch SL 66-3) – Before my mother gave up, she used to try to take an interest in her sons’ growing obsession with cricket. “Who’s winning?” would be her opening gambit, until she realised that the answer was always a gnomic, “Well, it kind of depends…”. Who’s winning at Test cricket is a question irreducible to a simple calculus of goals or points. This afternoon’s session is a case in point. England will look to bowl dry and build the pressure that brings wickets: Sri Lanka will look to score runs where they can, rotate the strike when possible and preserve wickets for a final session attack on wilting bowlers. You have the feeling that both sides would be happy to finish the session on the same score that they started it. Despite that, a fascinating couple of hours awaits with us unlikely to be any closer to knowing who’s winning at its conclusion.
Ball Six (SL 204-7) – If England fans, having travelled a long way, must watch an opposition batsman make a century, few will quibble about the batsman being Mahela Jayawardene (and not Graeme Smith for example). Though not immaculate, Mahela’s hundred today showed off his abilty to both bludgeon and caress the ball on the off and the on side and his imperturbable patience on a day in which his colleagues have been skittish and paid the price. England’s fans were on their feet to applaud Sri Lanka’s captain, not just for his beautiful batting but also for a display of gamecraft that has almost single-handedly kept his team in the match on a flat wicket in perfect batting conditions.
You can tweet Gary Naylor at @garynaylor999