Although the match will probably end up in history as Cooray's Match,
and be remembered as the straw which finally broke the umpires-and-
technology camel's back, and the whole thing was soured by cheating and
poor behaviour by both sides (inspired mainly by the umpires'
incompetence at decision-making in one case and at controlling the game
firmly in both), there was a ***y good game of cricket lurking
underneath. If one could just fantasise for a moment that all the
decisions by the umpires were perfectly correct and the players had
behaved as perfect gentlemen, it would go down as one of the most
exciting Tests ever played.
Although Gough got the MoM award, it's been a long time since there've
been so many candidates for it - in a match involving England, at least.
There were a lot of outstanding individual contributions, and the way
the teams pulled together as units was immense: SL did superbly to come
back from what seemed like certain death on day four, and England had to
dig deep into their characters to withstand the pressure and squeeze out
After Centurion, Lord's (v WI) and Karachi last year, I should be
getting used to gnawing my fingers off for hour after hour as England
creep to victory, but neither of those games were as enthralling as
Kandy was from the first over of the match right through to its end.
Let me remind you.
Session 1 saw Gough and Caddick wreak some havoc with the new ball on a
pitch which had something in it for quick bowlers who made an effort.
1-0 to England. But in session two, Jayewardene, ably supported by
Arnold, roared back with a brilliant attacking century. 1-1. After tea,
Caddick got the breakthrough and then Gough wiped out the tail, and what
had looked ominously as though to was to be 450+ turned into less than
300 all out. 2-1 to England.
On the second day, England's openers were disposed of fairly cheaply,
but then Hussain and Thorpe took the SL attack apart. 3-1 to England.
After lunch, though SL regrouped and put the lid on things, slowing
England down to a crawl. Hussain battled through to his ton, and after
his ghastly form of the previous years, you could see the weight being
lifted from his shoulders - an innings of great character. Honours about
even in the afternoon, so still 3-1. And after tea, SL got the middle
order out, leaving the tail for the next day. 3-2 to England.
Day three saw Robert Croft make his first significant contribution to
the match, battling away for 33* and putting on 50 with a dedicated
Gough to extend England's lead to an unexpectedly good 90. And then
Gough and Caddick ripped off the top of the SL order and then Croft
weighed in with two vital wickets to have them six down before they even
forced England to bat again. 6-2 to England, and surely victory was
But no. On day four Sangakkara brilliantly, and Dharmasena and Vaas
doggedly, first saved SL from total embarrassment and then went on to
post a very significant total. Setting England as much as 161 to win on
a pitch which was offering significant help to spinners by now was an
amazing achievement. And then Vaas produced a superb spell to leave
England with a precarious 70 to win with six wickets in hand - and the
knowledge that SL had themselves failed by seven runs to reach an almost
identical target on the same ground a year before. 6-5 to England.
On the final morning, SL launched everything they could at England, but
only managed to take three wickets as Croft again defended and defended
and they inched their way agonisingly slowly to the target - each rare
four giving rise to huge exhalations as the pressure was released for a
minute or two. And then Craig White came in, determinedly running for
absolutely every single and leg bye he could back himself to make and
nursed England to the finishing line.
After Galle, to have such a closely-contested match was pretty
surprising. It's a tribute to the way the team have pulled together that
it was: a couple of years ago, you could have bet your life savings on
the proposition that England would crumble under the pressure of the
fourth innings and been in no danger of ending up a pauper. And that was
only in normal circumstances: after the disappointments and perceived
injustices of Galle, the team of a couple of years ago would have
justified a visit to the bank manager for a very large loan in order to
invest it with a bookmaker.
Obviously a pitch which gave some hope to the seamers helped England's
confidence somewhat. That they capped SL to a sensible-seeming total
after they had at one time looked like running off ahead into the far
distance was very good indeed.
But it was England's batting which was the major change from Galle. Not
only did Hussain get runs, which was a major change in itself, but he
got them by attacking, and attacking Murali. "England Batsman Clouts
Murali Out Of The Ground" isn't a headline anyone expected to see any
time soon after the crab-like batting of a fortnight ago. And Thorpe
gave him a hiding in the fourth innings too. Even Stewart didn't look
completely at sea - in fact he looked merely slightly uncomfortable
while compiling a confidence-boosting 50.
This is no longer the team which left England in October, the one which
was going to rely on Hick to attack the spinners after Atherton and
Thorpe had battled their way to some sort of platform, the other top
order players mostly hoping not to look complete nitwits. After three
Tests against Saqlain and two against Murali on South Asian grounds, I
don't think you can say any more that England are weak against top-class
spin. That is by no means the same as saying they are *good* at playing
spin, or that they can play it easily - as the SL batsmen most certainly
can (although it would be nice if Ashley Giles could bowl like Ashley
Giles rather than Ian Twohundredawicket), but it does mean that spinners
now have to bowl *well* to get us out, not just pull a few scary faces,
turn their arms over, and watch the England bats run screaming back to
the dressing room.
But it isn't just this new-found batting strength of England that
impressed me. As an occasional participant in the bonda wars, I have
always wondered why the almost wholly useless (as I thought) Vaas never
got a mention, apart from his not being an Indian. I suspect England
thought of him that way too, and didn't really pay much attention to, or
make good preparation for, the line and length he bowls. I think he's
bowled better than I've seen him before: his control of line, slanting
it at the correct angle into and past the right-handers to give them
real trouble, has been exemplary. He's deserved his success.
I think Sangakkara's been one of the worst offenders (amongst a large
pool of candidates from both sides) in terms of on-field behaviour, and
I've taken a great dislike to him. So I was extremely pleased that he
was out just short of his maiden Test ton, because I'm spiteful that
way. But his 95 was a fantastic innings. SL were in deep, deep trouble,
yet he didn't retreat - he was aggressively attacking, playing a lot of
shots, really fighting back. And they were really *good* shots too:
although Jayewardene was just as powerful, if not more, Sangakkara's
strokes are a joy to watch because of their style. We'll be seeing a lot
more of him over the years, unless he gets suspended forever for the
I am very pissed off that I have to go away this coming weekend and
won't be in reach of a TV with live coverage of Colombo for most of the
match: I can't believe it can be as good a game as Kandy, but these
first two Tests have shown that nearly all the players on both sides
(Hick, Zoysa, and Fernando excepted on general grounds, and Giles on
form so far) are capable of excellent performances against each other in
these conditions, and with it being a deciding match, it ought to be a
1982 - last series England didn't lose to Pakistan
1962 - last series England won in Pakistan
2000 - England become first visiting team to win a Test in Karachi