Players defend pitch at Galle

Updated: 27 March 2012 21:58 IST

Games dominated by bowlers make for the most absorbing contests in Test cricket and the opening two days of this match have been compelling viewing for those inside the Galle stadium, those watching from the Dutch Fort and the millions glued to television sets. However, one beleaguered observer was wishing that batsmen hadn't donated quite so many wickets so cheaply.

Players defend pitch at Galle

Galle:

Games dominated by bowlers make for the most absorbing contests in Test cricket and the opening two days of this match have been compelling viewing for those inside the Galle stadium, those watching from the Dutch Fort and the millions glued to television sets. However, one beleaguered observer was wishing that batsmen hadn't donated quite so many wickets so cheaply.

Jayananda Warnaweera, the Galle groundsman and a former Sri Lanka offspinner who tormented England 19 years ago, was under as much scrutiny as England's floundering top order heading into this match. The previous pitch he had produced, for last August's Test against Australia, resulted in an official warning from the ICC for excessive early turn. The square had to undergo remedial work and another poor surface would have threatened the ground's Test status.

That would have been a huge blow to the city which, ticket disputes notwithstanding, has been a popular choice for visiting fans - especially, but not just, England's.

"I'm happy with the pitch," Warnaweera told ESPNcricnfo. "It is has turned a bit but in my opinion neither England nor Sri Lanka batted very well on the second day. You shouldn't produce dead Test pitches just to get scores of 600, that's my motto."

Two Test batting sides should not have lost 25 wickets in two days. England's quick bowlers exploited a little residual moisture in the first hour and there was increasing help for the spinners as the match moved through the second day with Swann finding sharp turn as he kept England just about alive with four wickets. Warnaweera was grateful for the support his pitch received from the most successful batsmen on either side.

Sri Lanka's captain, Mahela Jayawardene, said: "On day two we've probably had a bit more spin that we are used to but the last four weeks have been very hot so the wickets are unusually dry. But there are no demons in the wicket like for the Australia game where it was jumping from day one. There is adequate spin, but if you want to dig deep you can bat as well. It's the challenge of Test cricket."

Ian Bell, the only England batsman to reach fifty, was of similar mind. "To get bowled out for under 200 isn't great on that wicket which is pretty good to be honest," he said. "There's nothing to scare you. Obviously it's starting to dry out a bit more now and it turned towards the back end of the day."

Alarm bells need not ring. This is a Test match pitch on the subcontinent. If pitches are not going to turn here then where will they turn? Within fair limits, it is what home advantage is all about and why winning overseas is the litmus test for any team. Far less fuss is made about the ball seaming around off a green-top than when it spits for the spinners. There is even a school of thought that the ICC warning after the Australia game was harsh. Clearly, the surface had started too dry but pitches like that surely do less harm to the game than when 500 plays 500 and everyone goes home bored.

There are similarities in how this match has developed to the Australia Test but this time the home side are on top. Last year Mike Hussey's 95 pushed Australia to a competitive total before Nathan Lyon's five-wicket haul secured a big lead. This time around, Jayawardene's solo effort pushed Sri Lanka to a good score before Rangana Herath, a conventional spinner like Lyon, claimed the bowling honours.

Herath was given a helping hand during his haul. He is a workmanlike bowler who has carried Sri Lanka's attack since Muttiah Muralitharan's retirement. His average in the low 30s is perfectly respectable for an orthodox left-arm spinner in this era. Sometimes, though, you would have thought that England were facing Murali.

All except Bell had a significant hand in their dismissal: Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad swept across the line; Matt Prior and Samit Patel were caught on the back foot. Those four lbws, along with Monty Panesar's dismissal and Suranga Lakmal's early capture of Alastair Cook, equalled the most leg-befores England have had in a Test innings and not since 1977-78 in Karachi have they had six.

And the DRS indicated that they were all out, although for Strauss that was only after Jayawardene had successfully used one of his reviews. In contrast, neither Prior or Broad could save themselves by resorting to technology. It was an innings that showed how DRS works well and also showed how, most of the time, the on-field umpires make the correct call.

Bell was left to regret another poor England batting display. "We wanted to give the bowlers a rest," he said. "They have been so consistent and in a way we have let them down. The bowlers will know it's not through lack of effort. This game is still on and if we can put in one performance it can be a good Test."

The England bowlers may not be only ones feeling a bit miffed overnight. The supporters will not look entirely happy upon a three-day contest and not just because of what is looking a likely defeat for the visitors. After all the talk about high ticket prices there will not be any refund policy, although they can console themselves with the thought that there are worst places to have a couple of spare days. But while the fans can loll on the beach, England's batsmen could be heading for the nets.

Topics : England West Indies Australia Cricket Rangana Herath Ian Bell Galle International Stadium, Galle Graeme Swann
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