A dull affair

England showed, to their credit, that they have a solid base from which to create a good side, even without their frontline stars Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard, writes Ted Corbett.

Both captains damned it as unworkable, the spectators finished the game off by paying more attention to singing Christmas carols than watching the cricket and after five days of attrition we had what Michael Vaughan described as “the most comfortable draw I can remember in my time with England.”

Vaughan began his Test career on a memorable green top at Johannesburg against the mighty Allan Donald in 1999 and 72 Tests later he has the right to be heard on the subject of pitches.

Such strips do the game no favours. They do not create a desire in the hearts of fans to return to a ground where the result is obvious soon after the first ball is bowled. The commentators become bored and resort to silly in-jokes rather than discuss the wretched game taking place below them; such games as this second Test between England and Sri Lanka waste everyone’s time.

Luckily, there are fewer than in the era of misery from 1960 through to Kerry Packer’s day.

In those days a draw was standard fare and the loudest noise came from administrators, pressmen and stay-at-home fans who pleaded for Brighter Cricket, the watchwords of the period.

The blame fell on the batsmen who were supposed to use the “featherbed” pitches of the time to blaze away. Geoff Boycott, Ken Barrington and John Edrich, great batsmen — but not naturally men who blazed away — built their innings in a traditional way, made hundreds of dull runs and were roundly condemned.

We do not want a return to those days.

There are signs that things are looking up, at least in Colombo where as I write there are tales of a rise to the top once again for Arjuna Ranatunga.

I trust he will see to it that the pitch at SSC — and everyone concerned with its construction — is given a severe kicking as soon as he takes over as head of the country’s cricket administration.

(He might also kick a few selectors who seem to be without a strategy, a short term plan or the knowledge to find the right players to take over when Sanath Jayasuriya’s move into retirement is followed inevitably by Chaminda Vaas and Murali. The West Indies found to their cost that they waited too long to change their side, the Australians and the South Africans are developing the same problems and England have just recovered. Perhaps Ranatunga, who turned Sri Lanka from a bunch of free spirits into a team good enough to disturb the Aussies and then win the World Cup, can avoid the pitfalls set by ageing players and placid pitches).

Ranatunga’s energy is still widely respected, he has moved seamlessly into politics, the family business, and shows all the acumen that made him Sri Lanka’s finest captain.

Still plenty of work ahead, Arjuna. Good luck.

England showed, to their credit, that they have a solid base from which to create a good side, even without their frontline stars Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard.

In Vaughan they have a captain already fit to be ranked alongside the other finest of their own era — Mike Brearley, Len Hutton and Ray Illingworth. Vaughan showed all the characteristics that made these men outstanding. Captains earn their keep when the going is toughest and he did that with a side that had not much in the way of experience, Stuart Broad, a young fast bowler who had an immediate problem with running on the pitch, and Ravi Bopara, who is in the early stages of his career and has yet to prove he will make it in the long term.

Somehow, Vaughan kept them together and when he was faced with an hour’s batting at the end of the first day showed that in his knowledge of how this funny old game can work he can hold his head up.

He was watched by Brearley, now grown to be president of MCC, a white-haired patrician, in Sri Lanka to open homes provided by his club for victims of the tsunami. I thought I caught sight of him nodding as he saw Vaughan call for the heavy roller between innings.

Seven minutes of rolling took any sting — all right, don’t make me laugh, I will settle for any tiny amount of turn — out of the pitch and gave him and his new opening partner Alastair Cook an easy time before bad light stopped play.

As they walked off — Cook with a young man’s chatter, Vaughan with the cares of the side written all over his reddened and lined face — the match was drawn even though 98 overs of work remained.

Mahela Jayawardene had decided that the game could not be won some hours earlier. Did you see how calmly he batted, how rarely he was beaten, how easily he survived for 10 hours?

Of course you did. So did he. He must have wished for at least one ball to kick, turn spitefully, even for a ball that caused him to send a half chance to slip. But no, that remained a fanciful dream and as he trotted steadily to 195 he knew that the series would not be settled until we smelt the cruel sea at Galle.

He had no second spinner — although Malinga Bandara was in the pavilion also dreaming of what he might have done — to support Murali, Dilhara Fernando would have been doing his own career more good if he had already been in Melbourne for an operation on his injured knee and for all Vaas had taken two wickets in the first innings he had not seen a ball swing for days.

England do not play two spinners; indeed throughout this century they have come to regard such a line-up as the work of the devil. No side, be it club, county or country, needs two spinners in a land where plenty of rain keeps the pitches lush, where a new ball comes along as regularly as the ice cream salesman and where there are neither the wish nor the intention to use spinners.

Now life is a-changing. Monty Panesar is the finest left-arm spinner of recent years and Adil Rashid promises to be the best leg-break bowler we have ever produced, even if his genes come down to us from a foreign land. I wish I could tell you that Rashid will be given every encouragement by dry pitches, by ample bowling and by astute captaincy.

I cannot. I know he is valued for his batting, but even with Boycott, a character every bit as strong as Ranatunga, in charge at Yorkshire, I wonder if Rashid will be allowed to go on bowling his flighty leg-breaks or if one day some well-intentioned coach will say: “There not a lot of future in leg-breaks, lad. Leave that to the Australians. I don’t know if you fancy bowling a bit of medium pace, seam up, know what I mean>”

That way madness lies, but it happens.