Ball One – Close, but no cigar – in fact, it never caught fire
It’s a curious anomaly of cricket: two closely matched teams produced a series the outcome of which was decided in the 499th of its 500 scheduled overs – and yet the actual cricket never felt close (an echo, in reverse, of last summer’s Ashes). Jos Buttler did his best to inject tension at Lord’s, but a mini Botham at Headingley 1981 only threatened briefly. Even the Edgbaston decider had all the tension of a Formula 1 procession to the chequered flag. Three T20Is (preferably double-headers with the women’s teams playing in the afternoon and the men in the evening) and three ODIs, might offer a more fulfilling curtain-raiser for the international summer.
Ball Tw0 – England stuck in the past
Alastair Cook, Joe Root and Gary Ballance are admirable batsmen, but is there room for all three in an England top four? None scored at more than 80 runs per 100 balls across the series and they struck just 20 boundaries between them from the 440 balls they faced. That is 20th century batting in a 21st century game, a conclusion made rather obvious by Jos Buttler’s 19 boundaries from the 124 balls he faced.
Ball Three – Sri Lanka’s batsmen play smart cricket
To be fair, the Lankans’ wins had a touch of the 20th century about them too. The key innings (Dilshan’s 88 at The Riverside, Sangakkara’s 112 at Lord’s and Lahiru Thirimanne’s 60* at Edgbaston) were stroked rather than smashed, a testament to some fine England bowling and often tricky batting conditions. In the final reckoning, the tourists were simply more experienced at playing the match situation – something that stands them in good stead with the World Cup looming and a lesson England will have to learn very quickly.
Ball Four – Cook needs options
England used just six bowlers in the five matches, reflecting the absence of Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes, but also reflecting an unwillingness on the part of the selectors to give Alastair Cook the options an ODI captain needs. Ravi Bopara is a handy man to whom to throw the ball, but against top batsmen on good wickets, he’s a sixth bowler – and Joe Root is a ninth. Stokes for Ballance might solve that problem – but who is going to bat at Four for England? We know who used to…
Ball Five – The Lankan’s unorthodoxy a challenge for everyone, but it should be treasured
Sachithra Senanayake, Ajantha Mendis and the veteran Lasith Malinga do not look like products of a regimented National Development Programme – because, of course, they’re not. Their natural, unique, actions (witness the contrast with a “project player” like Shane Watson, lumbering to the crease carrying an injury-blighted record) work for them and trouble batsmen, especially the lower-order – can you set a bowling machine up to mimic these guys? Senanayake has also troubled the authorities too – but let’s hope he can address any remedial work his action may require and play in the World Cup, as ODI cricket needs all the variety it can get – especially in those “boring middle overs”.
Ball Six – To Mankad or not to Mankad?
When a Third Umpire flashes “Not Out” on the big board, as the thumping tension-inducing music booming round the ground abruptly stops and the wicket-keeper trudges back for the next ball, nobody looks to see if the millimetre of bat grounded over the line was helped by a head start of a metre or so, backing up as the bowler delivered the ball. But we all know that most non-strikers do steal a little, even at risk of the drive deflecting on to the stumps for a run out their end. To make the batsmen cover the full distance in order to notch a run is what the creases and Law 38 is for after all. So what a lot of humbug about Senanayake’s Mankading of Jos Buttler. He warned him twice – which is once more than I would have done were I a professional playing with fellow professionals.
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