The crowd rose as one to salute a majestic cricketer as Kumar Sangakkara returned to Lord’s majestic pavilion, 112 runs to his name, his team in a dominant position. The ball had been driven back past the bowler, whipped through midwicket and stroked through the covers, steely wrists directing it where he willed. He had been striking at over a run a ball, the silkiest shots killing us softly. I had seen his countryman, Aravinda de Silva, make the same score at the same venue in the same way 19 years earlier – each were masterpieces of classical one day batsmanship that I was privileged to witness and will never forget.
Three hours later, the game was well and truly up for England when Eoin Morgan was out leaving 190 runs to be scored in 21.4 overs with just five wickets in hand. Jos Buttler was the next lamb to the slaughter, at 23 just a few months off being the youngest man on either side, but, with 30-odd ODIs behind him and no century to his name, still with much to prove.
Suddenly, he proved himself and more. All the latent talent that England fans had seen only in glimpses burst forth in a torrent of shots bristling with power allied to timing. His first boundary broke a spell of almost 22 overs without one, and he was later to hurtle from 79 to his maiden ODI ton in just six deliveries. It wasn’t quite enough in the end, but a match that had been drifting towards an inevitable Sri Lankan win since early afternoon was still in the balance at the start of the day’s 100th over. England had, at last, found a batsman who could slot into the new generation of white ball cricketers – Buttler had shown the bat speed, imagination and fearlessness 21st century one day cricket demands.
The crowd went home marvelling at the skills displayed by two batsmen at either end of their careers, both utterly confident in their talents, both so very different in their execution. What a game this is!
Alastair Cook and The Crowd
In Shakespeare, The Crowd is only ever one “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…” speech from transforming into The Mob, the baying, the vein-bulging, the screaming amorphous mass demanding “its right” with no thought for the consequences. Twitter and the “below-the-line” comments on articles have given more opportunities to that Shakespearean mob to vent its spleen – sometimes it can feel that everyone is nursing a resentment, that everyone is fully entitled to have their view carefully considered and individually approved or rebutted, that everyone is locked into a permanent plebiscite the results of which must be actioned Right Here, Right Now. It’s not a recipe for fine judgment nor strategic thought.
When Alastair Cook, with calls for his head emerging in the media after going one-nil down in the series, pulled Mohammed Shami for the two that took him to fifty and England to 82-1, the crowd’s reaction might have been muted, grudging, even aggressive. It was not. Applause rang round the Ageas Bowl as men, women and children got to their feet, their appreciation of a man doing his best in difficult circumstances without complaint plain for all to see. Its impact was all the greater, as nobody quite expected so unequivocal a show of support, least of all its recipient who appeared visibly moved in the close of play interviews.
Cook, buoyed by such support, eventually left the crease (to another ovation) with 95 to his name, his team on 213-1, and the series turning, irrevocably, England’s way.
David Warner’s hand
David Warner’s right hand has seen a bit of history. In 2013, it had thumped Joe Root in a nightclub and led to his missing the start of the 2013 Ashes series, an incident that grows in importance with hindsight. It had held the hand of fiancee Candice Falzon, the relationship credited with providing the stability off the field that has led to such an astonishing productivity on the field. And it is the hand that held his stricken mate Phillip Hughes in his terrible last journey to hospital.
Just two weeks later, that hand was punching the air as Warner saluted a brilliant, emotional and, ultimately, Test winning century, when Australia and India resumed hostilities at the Adelaide Oval. It was a celebration that started with such signature exuberance and concluded with his captain providing a shoulder to cry on, as the immense cricketer was transformed into a grieving child by the measure of his accomplishment.
The story of David Warner’s right hand has been the story of Australian cricket these last 18 months – and it will write more history in 2015.