Application is the key

If anything, batting last in a Test match is very tough since most pitches get worn out over five days. So, batting has to be that much more careful in the final innings considering the unpredictability of the pitch.

Sri Lanka's collapse in the second innings of the first Test against England should not surprise the followers of the game in the sub-continent. It is a peculiar malady that strikes the sub-continental teams that score more than 400 runs in the first innings, and somehow tend to think that all they have to do is to go out and bat in the second innings and runs would follow.

If anything, batting last in a Test match is very tough since most pitches get worn out over five days. So, batting has to be that much more careful in the final innings considering the unpredictability of the pitch.

Any pitch is at its best when it is fresh, and though it may help the new ball bowlers it would also provide the batsmen with the chance to play their shots once they have settled down. As the sun beats down, or as in England when the cold wind attacks the surface, the pitch can become different from what it was on day one.

Sri Lanka were being captained for the first time by Tillekaratne Dilshan who knows only one way to bat — that is to hammer the ball no matter what it does. However, there were other far more experienced players such as Kumar Sangakkara and the classy Mahela Jayawardene who should have known better. All that they had to do was to bat out the day, but instead they were dismissed for 82 and Sri Lanka lost by an innings and 14 runs after having scored 400 in the first innings. If only their batsmen had shown the same application they had in the first innings, they could have easily saved the match.

The fact that Sri Lanka were unable to dismiss England showed that the pitch hadn't deteriorated that much, but all the seasoned travellers to England know that no batsman can take it easy there and has to be watchful all the time. Dilshan has said that he won't read the riot act. It is never easy for someone who lives dangerously while batting to get upset with others who also perish playing risky shots.

Now the Sri Lankans will have to play catch up with England and they don't have the bowling to do so. How much Muttiah Muralitharn had meant to them is evident now, for the magician apart from having the craft to bowl a variety of deliveries was also like a bowling machine that went on and on.

Alastair Cook got his century and Jonathan Trott, who in his unfussy way goes about scoring runs and gives England solidity at the top, scored a double hundred. He has been so prolific that England do not miss Kevin Pietersen, who has not been among runs of late.

KP seems to have a problem with left-arm spinners and gets dismissed leg before. It is a problem that some batsmen have and they are coming to terms with it by thrusting the bat in front of the pad and not beside it.

TV technology has certainly changed the technique of the batsmen, as they no longer use the pads as the first line of defence in case they are unable to read a bowler. They know that they could be out lbw and so prefer to meet the ball with the bat even if there is a risk of being caught off the pad in the close positions. The bat beside or sometimes behind the pad method of batting had come about in the late 1960s when the batsmen were unsure which way the ball would move off the uncovered pitch.

With TV technology not as advanced as it is today, the umpires generally gave the batsmen not out believing that if they had thrust their foot well forward then the ball would not have gone on to the stumps after the impact with the pad. So many batsmen used the pad as the first line of defence. Today, with advanced technology, this is not possible. So the technique has changed and it is that much better for the sport as nobody wants to watch the ball being played with the pad instead of bat.

India tour England in the second half of the English summer when the pitches will be a bit benign and the weather too a lot more predictable. But the Indian cricketers will know that if they relax they too could suffer the same fate as the Lankans in the first Test.