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Beats from Riverside

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James_Anderson_England_cricket_JimmyI have always looked at Sri Lankan cricket with more than a hint of admiration. The island nation, despite civil strife and a paucity of resources, has thrown up elegant cricketers who play with a breezy charm and a feisty spirit.

From the early years of dogged Duleep Mendis, the bunch from the 90s who took the world by storm, through to the Mahela-Sangakkara era, the Lankans have perennially defied odds and expectations, winning plaudits and admirers along the way. Yet, when Chandimal and Siriwardana stepped onto the Riverside, history would have weighed lightly on their heads. Not entirely out of focus, but something they would not boggle at given the enormity of the task at hand. The result might have been a foregone conclusion but it would be unwise to not pucker up and dish out a few blows in a bid to delay, maybe even defy, the inevitable.

Siriwardana's dismissal might have put the visitors on more shaky ground, but portly Rangana Herath and a solid Chandimal offered brave resistance, making a mockery of Moeen Ali in the process. Chandimal may have the runs, but it was Herath who really caught the eye. An unlikely dasher, he sensed a weakness in Ali's gentle off-spinners. Sweep, reverse sweep, sweep, reverse sweep. Both Lankans singled out Ali in a remarkable countercharge that will undoubtedly lift a vastly inexperienced side and perhaps proffer hope of salvaging something from the rest of the summer's cricket.

While the English bowlers toiled, one name, quite unsurprisingly, stood out: Jimmy Anderson. I remember watching Anderson when he was a fresh faced teenager, spiky hair, blond streaks et al. Often unconvincing in his early years, he has risen out of the idiotic comparisons with Beckham and carved himself into cricket folklore. I have rarely seen a bowler exercise such wonderful control over the red Duke, masterfully making the ball hold seam, before making it cheekily hop about when the batsmen least want it to.

He has had a fine series so far, 18 wickets in two matches, three 5 wicket hauls, but more pertinent is the manner in which he made a rather timid Riverside pitch spring to life with every dash to the popping crease. The pick of his wickets has to be that of Kusal Mendis and a ball that was too good for Eranga. In fact it would have been too good for just about anybody, let alone a sheepish number 9.

Eranga's wicket, although tinged with a modicum of sadness, was particularly pleasing. Having set him up with a few short deliveries (which were not quite short, nor particularly menacing), it was a classic case of pitching it up, landing the ball on its seam, allowing it to move away just enough to clip the top of off, squaring a hapless Eranga in the process. His 4th wicket had come a few overs earlier, trapping Herath plumb in front. A token DRS upheld the decision, and Anderson had single handedly felled Sri Lanka's resistance.

Although in the grander scheme of things this Test, maybe even this series, won't have the same recall effect as England's more memorable recent triumphs and/or their stomach churning defeats, but Anderson and Captain Cook ensured that this Test would remain significant for their personal milestones.

While Anderson nailed his 450th scalp with Herath's wicket, a hitherto edgy Cook became the youngest batsman to cross 10,000 runs, and the first Englishman to do so. Whether we will see another of his ilk is open to debate, but as long as he plays with a stubborn dead bat and impenetrable focus, cricket will be richer for the variety he brings to modern batting.

There was a brief period when his suspect ODI form began to spread to his test batting. A batsman once marked by a steadfast refusal to chase after most deliveries outside off-stump was compulsively doing the opposite: finding himself in enough of a tangle to give fodder for doubters to declare the end of his career. More sensible heads figured out his ills and in retiring from ODI cricket for good, Cook was liberated both as batsman and captain. It is odd though, a good number of batsmen feel bogged down by the rigours of Test cricket instead seeking comfort in the shorter forms but then again Cook is an antidote to the very idea of a modern cricketer. Blessed with a gifted England team, his best years lie ahead of him.

Personally, I am glad that test cricket is back. Sri Lanka's rear guard has filled me with enough enthusiasm for an uncertain summer. In “Chinaman”, Shehan Karunatilaka's novel on Sri Lankan cricket, a pointed reference is made to the cricketers' lack of on-field application and their off-field indiscretions by blithely stating that they 'were more interested in scoring 69s'. It would be interesting to know quite how he feels about their modern counterparts. I am of the opinion that he would quite like Angelo Mathews and his bunch of spirited triers.

Off to Lords now, and with it the presence of cricket's bourgeoisie. I have often cringed at the white, upper class, male hegemony of the MCC, and the club's recent pronouncement that Test cricket is very much a London-centric sport grates further. The fact that the MCC are held in such high regard is quite surprising given how the club upholds a culture of privilege.

Perhaps a Ranatunga-like figure would be ideal for such a scenario. I would have him posted on the fence, constantly sniping at the MCC neo-cons, or just being a general bastard to the nattily dressed lot. Maybe this is a discussion for another time, hopefully soon, when cricket finally embraces a revolutionary zeal and pushes towards a more egalitarian future. Till then, we will have to focus instead on the trivial matter of an upwardly mobile Sri Lanka versus a free spirited England.

 

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