Thursday, 29 March 2012

Herath of the titans

Sigh, another cricket article, another loss.
Sri Lanka 1-0 England

Although I rarely comment on England wins due to their recent disappearance and the lack of opportunity to moan, I woke up this morning prepared to write a piece celebrating an unlikely victory. But then I thought of the above headline and my intentions changed.

As I have said before, England's attempt to lose test matches all over the world means early starts for those who embrace cricket-induced insomnia. As those forgotten Gods of rock, 10cc, explained to us in 1978, "I don't like cricket, I love it". My obsession with this - in mitigation - really, really odd sport makes early morning starts that much easier. Curiosity as to England's fortunes often puts a spring in my step as I stumble down the stairs at stupid o'clock. Incompetence from the England team has recently had me stumbling back up to bed. Waking up to see/listen to (yes, I still don't have Sky) England getting destroyed can really put a dent in your mood for the day, and so it has proved during the last few months.

After the aberration of the Pakistan series in the UAE, the finest cricketers from all over the country*  were humiliated incessantly by our charming media. "Don't worry" we were all told. "We got to number one in the world; we are good enough to stay there". A combination of technical ineptitude and Pakistani mystery/embarrassing superiority sent England spiralling to earth faster than a Saeed Ajmal doosra, with twice as much scrutiny.

* - world.

With each soul-destroying loss, England's lambs to the slaughter looked more and more like desperate children as a number of excuses were offered to explain the catastrophe in the Emirates:

"We played too much beforehand" - Translation - Our porridge was too hot.
"We didn't play enough beforehand" - Translation - Our porridge was too cold.
"We didn't expect those pitches" - Translation - Their porridge was just right.
Other laughable explanations were given, including the DRS, our county system and Ian Bell's recent inability to hold a bat, but the fact was that England had no idea of how to play spin bowlers on spinning wickets.

But it couldn't be the same against Sri Lanka could it? Since the retirement of the great Muttiah Murilitharan, their attack was rendered more toothless than Bruce Forsyth, but half as potent. Now better prepared, with lessons learnt from their previous disaster, England were ready to do battle again.

On the first day, England started brilliantly. Reducing Sri Lanka to a score of 15-3, it seemed that England would be able to roll over their hosts quickly and have the chance to score a big first-innings lead. But then Mahela Jayawardene came in and effortlessly had the visiting bowlers wilting. By 11 a.m, in conditions hotter than a Hollyoaks girl’s pillow-fight, Mahela was cooler than the side of the pillow I longed to return to.

Still, England persevered and had the chance to restrict Sri Lanka to under 250 runs, which in context, would have been below-par. But as I have said (moaned) for the last twelve months, England still have problems dismissing the lower-order - and thus, worst - batsmen in opposition teams. I could talk about how I have stumbled upon England's fallacy against mediocrity, but I won't. As it happened, the home side racked up 318...or something.

Oh well, less than a year ago, opposition bowlers conceded more of the runs to our batsmen than to a Sri Lankan curry, surely on a decent wicket, we could amass a huge score again? The problem with that is, in the last six months or so, our batsmen have forgotten how to bat and opposition bowlers have learnt how to exploit that e.g. bring on a spinner, get the ball to bounce. At 90something for 6 - again, my selective ability to conduct research coming to the fore - England were being embarrassed as the breathtakingly average Rangana Herath tore England apart, claiming a number of top-order scalps, literally in Jonathan Trott's case, as he was clattered by Prassana Jayawardene, of which there is more later.

"I can take the despair, it's the hope I can't stand."

John Cleese said that and, like most of what he says, it is true, especially for England sport fans. In their first innings, England fought back to relative competitiveness, before taking five quick Sri Lankan wickets to leave them just 200 or so runs ahead with just five wickets left. Suddenly, England were right back in the game, and incredibly, foolishly, I dared to hope.

Big mistake Doug. Again, England got to within two wickets of dismissing Sri Lanka, looking likely to chase a target of around 250 runs, but then forgot how to bowl to two of the worst batsmen in the game. Supported by Mahela's brother, Prassana, the trio contributed a further eighty-seven runs, and out of nowhere, an achievable target looked impossible once more. The Jayawardene family must be very proud tonight, knowing that two of their sons have caused rather large lumps on my knuckles due to my persistent punching of cupboards, desks and passers-by (to the old woman who got off the 08:47 at Epsom yesterday, please accept my sincerest apologies, don't blame it on the boogie, blame it on Mr and Mrs Jayawardene). Prassana is the most incredibly average bastmen, yet every time he plays against my team, transcends himself, much like that charming Danny Murphy I mentioned in my last piece.

For the fiftieth time this summer, England were against the odds and for the fiftieth time, gave me just enough reason to hope they could achieve the unthinkable. Unfortunately, once again, England fell short as the...I can't believe I'm writing this...irrepressible Herath and the just irritating Suraj Randiv spun England into oblivion.

So, England lose again. As I said about two months ago, I intend to not wake up for the second test, but I just know that I will. I was born into a select group - the obsessive sport geek - and with that comes the responsibility to punish myself. Due to my obsession with trivial sporting matters whilst ignoring important things like tax-rates, coursework and my fingernails, I am sentenced to a life of early-starts, late finishes and angry middles as I follow my teams to temporary success but inevitable failure.

How will the second test end? Who really cares, England can't play spin, and until they can, mornings like today will keep happening to me. So for my sake, Messrs Pietersen, Strauss and Patel, start playing properly!

Otherwise "I won't like cricket"...and that's it.

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