This post also appears at spincricket.com.
Ball One (SL 84-5) – Nothing delights like the prospect of Day Three of a Test Match. Both teams have had a bat and a bowl, the pitch’s character is beginning to change, offering some help to spinners and seamers and teams’ game plans need some thought to jostle for the initiative, whilst paying attention to the rhythm of the match as possible endgames hove into view. All true today of course, but the match situation is more fourth day than third, with Sri Lanka down to their last specialist batsman, little deterioration evident in the wicket and a tough, but not impossible fourth innings chase in prospect for England. If the trend of the first two day’s play continues with straight deliveries confounding batsman after batsman, it’ll all be over by tea. But if, as I suspect, batsmen are less profligate, England might finish the day 140 short of their target with five wickets in hand. By Ball Six of this over, we’ll know if I’m right.
Ball Two (SL 115-7) – It’s DRS time again – what did we talk about before its introduction – as Swanny snares Randiv after a referral that showed the ball projected to kiss the bail above middle stump. The system is designed to correct howlers and Asad Rauf’s call was no howler, but Randiv can feel a little aggrieved – until he’s bowling.
Ball Three (SL 153-8) – Rod Tucker – as all umpires do – gets edgy with Stuart Broad directing short-pitched deliveries towards, if not exactly at, Chanaka Welegedara. Sri Lanka’s Number 10 had faced more than 40 deliveries, was fully armoured up and was savvy enough to get right forward to the next ball and punch it down the ground for three. In all but the most extreme circumstances – genuine headhunting or negative short stuff down the legside – the bowler should be allowed to pitch the ball wherever he chooses. There’s the wide law if needed.
Ball Four (SL 214 all out) – After a disappointing first innings in which he was targeted by batsmen and went wickteless, Swanny has roared back in the second dig with six wickets to become England’s leading fivefer spinner overseas. He will say that he didn’t do anything different second time around and maybe he didn’t, but the signature strut was back and the appealing Warnesque once more. Can it be that his decision to wear a cap when batting – and this is a man who thinks hard about such things – may have put the spring back in his step? Sportsmen and sportswomen have used more inconsequential things than attire to convince themselves that they’re back in nick.
Ball Five (Eng 0-0) – The top five wickets have been outscored by the lower five wickets by 253 runs as England start their chase. That suggests that the pitch holds no demons and that the bowling is consistent rather than threatening. History is against England chasing 340 runs for the win, but most run chases are conducted on pitches a day older than this one. If England can find a century-maker and the other six batsmen and useful late order can play around him, the match isn’t over just yet. Whilst there are few examples of successful run chases of the order of that facing England, there are some biggish fourth innings scores at Galle. In 2004, South Africa finished on 203-3, in 2007 England made 251-6, in 2010 Sri Lanka cruised home with 96-0 and in Chris Gayle’s match in 2010, Sri Lanka forced the draw on 241-4. There are runs to be made on days four and five here.
Ball Six (Eng 42-1) – So another utterly compelling day of Test cricket draws to a close. Of course this game is an anachronism and of course it’s under threat from T20’s cheap thrills and of course it’s only watched in big numbers at the grounds by Brits (and Aussies and Indians in some circumstances) but what rich rewards it offers its devotees. The standard of cricket in Galle has not been particularly high, but both sides have contrived moments of drama and delight, controversy and comedy, beauty and brutality. Nearly three days in, and (at the time of writing) we’re no closer to knowing which team will win, with all the effort under a steamy sun so far merely hardening Sri Lanka’s pre-match favouritism a little. After six hours play, everyone can’t wait for it to start again tomorrow.
You can tweet Gary Naylor at @garynaylor999