Rain saves England the blushes

To turn out such a fine pitch in the middle of a ground that had suffered the greatest disaster to hit an international venue is a tribute to any groundsman’s skills and for that the curator Jayananda Warnaweera deserves a medal, writes Ted Corbett.

Perhaps it was appropriate that two heavy storms called an end to the third Test at Galle. After all, it was another force of nature that gave the match its significance although it was kindly, well-intentioned, hard-working people who saw that it was staged, in time and in good order.

The first person to deserve credit for the Test going ahead was the curator of the Galle ground, Jayananda Warnaweera, once an off-spinner with a crazy action, now the chief architect of the Tsunami Remembrance Test.

Watching him attend — inevitably with his umbrella in hand — to the daily ritual of laying rain covers, seeing that his hordes of workmen placed the patchwork quilt in just the right place so that there was no way for the water to get at ground or pitch, it was easy to see why his dream came true.

Heaven alone knows how he must have felt when he first saw the welter of damage caused by great tides of water coming through the two tunnels that lead from the Fort to the city.

Despair, anger, frustration, utter misery. It is not difficult to understand that he felt the full gamut of those emotions; then he must have wondered if it would ever be possible to turn the wreck into a cricket ground once more.

Three years on Warnaweera has succeeded brilliantly. Not only has he got the stadium ready for the festival Test — Christmas was coming, Eid was being celebrated — but he has done so by delaying the match and insisting on the highest standards.

No one knows at this moment what will happen to the stadium in the future. There are voices asking that the stadium should be dismantled, that the whole ground should go elsewhere within Galle, while high authority demands a new name, a new aspect, a new outlook.

I wonder how these concerns will settle on Warnaweera. If I judge the man correctly he will take them in his stride as he tries to get a stadium suitable for cricket, one that is a credit to his city and one that international teams will be pleased to visit.

He will have one other priority; the pitch.

It is an especial credit to him that he made the best pitch of the three in this Test series. Kandy was interesting, Colombo good only for a draw but the Galle wicket was pretty nearly perfect.

You could bowl on it at pace and get the batsmen to hurry. You could bat on it and score runs — couldn’t you Chaminda and Tillekeratne and Mahela — if you concentrated and took your time and had the talent.

The spinners found some turn — of course Muttiah Muralitharan always does — and yet there was, apart from a freakish ball that got Ian Bell in the second England innings, a consistency of bounce and pace that gave a batsman confidence.

To turn out such a fine pitch in the middle of a ground that had suffered the greatest disaster to hit an international venue is a tribute to any groundsman’s skills and for that Warnaweera deserves a medal.

As for the match it was a typical 21st century Test. Lots of runs were scored, there was time for Jayawardene to show us why he is his country’s greatest run gatherer and from our position high above play in the finest media centre I have used in the last 26 years there was ample opportunity to study the art of Murali.

By the end of the Test I felt confident I could pick the doosra from my chair. What a pity the old limbs would not carry me to the pitch in time to play the delivery once I had spotted it. Still, in the next life maybe.

The match was drawn, not just because of the rain although two mighty storms wiped it out on the fifth day as England, fighting, and scrappin’ — their own favourite word for getting stuck in — refused to collapse a second time after being bowled out for 81.

I am not sure they deserved a draw; indeed I feel they were lucky to escape both in the second and third Tests.

Michael Vaughan was honest about his team’s failings. “We did not have the skills and expertise to complete the job,” he said, promising that they would do their best to make up the difference by carrying the lessons forward to New Zealand where they play three Tests in the spring.

New Zealand may be an easier proposition than the canny Sri Lankans. The Kiwi batsmen tend to play at least one shot to every ball; you do not find Jayawardene and Sangakkara taking those sort of risks.

Sri Lanka are rebuilding but from a firm base. Someone has persuaded their selectors to take a more logical look at life by bringing back that gritty battler Tillekeratne Dilshan in place of Jehan Mubarak.

Dilshan is a better batsman, a better fielder and offers a little in the way of part time bowling with his round the wicket off spin. (Jim Laker often bowled round the wicket and as Dilshan is intent on pushing the ball through flatter it will no doubt be an effective ploy.)

Although I deplore the retirement of Sanath Jayasuriya, as much because he could bowl slow spin to act as a counter balance to Murali, I see with pleasure that the opening partnership of Michael Vandort and Upul Tharanga is a success. I like Vandort who will, I imagine, get right up Australian noses with his steady stream of defensive shots.

So with five of their six batsmen at least worth their place — and Chamara Silva ready to learn — and four good bowlers and a decent wicket-keeper, Sri Lanka start 2008 in a better position than England and not just because they won this series.

All the signs of England panic are here once more. Bring back Mark Ramprakash, goes the cry, even though he has repeatedly failed at Test level. “If he returns he will freeze again,” says one who knows him well. There are others asking for a youth policy, for Vaughan to hand over the reins to Paul Collingwood and for Matt Prior, who did as much as anyone to save this Test, to be replaced.

I can tell you from my experience going back to the rebel tours of South Africa that England are always being galvanised into action by the most vocal press corps in the world.

What has it got them? Briefly, the Ashes. A World Cup record that is dismal. A vast reorganisation of the cricket structure that means most of the same people are in charge.

I would forecast disaster but you never know. One of these days all this scrambling around in the dark will produce results that will shock the world. But I fancy Sri Lanka will top the world rankings and win the World Cup long before England.

THE SCORES Third Test, Galle, Dec. 18-22. Match drawn.

Sri Lanka — 1st innings: M. Vandort lbw b Sidebottom 18; U. Tharanga lbw b Harmison 16; K. Sangakkara c Panesar b Harmison 46; M. Jayawardene (not out) 213; C. Silva c Bell b Harmison 1; T. Dilshan (run out) 84; P. Jayawardene c Prior b Bopara 0; C. Vaas c Vaughan b Hoggard 90; L. Malinga b Collingwood 5; Extras (b-1, lb-14, w-8, nb-3) 26. Total (for eight wkts., decl.) 499.

Fall of wickets: 1-34, 2-44, 3-132, 4-138, 5-287, 6-287, 7-470, 8-499.

England bowling: Sidebottom 34-8-95-1; Hoggard 32-4-121-1; Harmison 34-4-104-3; Panesar 26-3-76-0; Bopara 10-1-39-1; Collingwood 9.5-2-38-1; Pietersen 3-0-11-0.

England — 1st innings: A. Cook c P. Jayawardene b Vaas 13; M. Vaughan lbw b Vaas 1; I. Bell (run out) 1; K. Pietersen c P. Jayawardene b Malinga 1; P. Collingwood b Welegedara 29; R. Bopara c Welegedara b Vaas 0; M. Prior b Vaas 4; R. Sidebottom c Dilshan b Muralitharan 11; S. Harmison (not out) 9; M. Hoggard c M. Jayawardene b Welegedara 0; M. Panesar (run out) 0; Extras (b-4, nb-8) 12. Total: 81.

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-9, 3-22, 4-22, 5-25, 6-33, 7-70, 8-72, 9-72.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 9.5-2-28-4; Malinga 9-2-26-1; Welegedara 8-1-17-2; Muralitharan 4-2-6-1.

England — 2nd innings: A. Cook c P. Jayawardene b Welegedara 118; M. Vaughan c M. Jayawardene b Welegedara 24; I. Bell b Muralitharan 34; K. Pietersen c M. Jayawardene b Muralitharan 30; P. Collingwood st. P. Jayawardene b Muralitharan 0; R. Bopara (run out) 0; M. Prior (not out) 19; R. Sidebottom (not out) 0; Extras (b-6, lb-5, w-1, nb-14) 26. Total (for six wkts.) 251.

Fall of wickets: 1-67, 2-128, 3-200, 4-200, 5-200, 6-250.

Sri Lanka bowling: Muralitharan 38-8-91-3; Vaas 18-7-37-0; Malinga 20-3-42-0; Welegedara 14-1-59-2; Dilshan 3-1-8-0; Silva 2-1-3-0.