There was a sense of fear in some Indian fans on the opening day at Lord’s. Green pitch fear. Terror of the lush grass. One told his friend that India would be bowled out by lunch. Another said that only Cheteshwar Pujara could survive such a wicket, the rest were front runners or hopeless. They can’t play the swinging ball, let alone the seaming ball said a third friend.
Yet, India made it to stumps. They scored their highest ever Lord’s total when batting first. The ball swung, and it occasionally seamed, but it was not a minefield. There were no booby traps hidden by lushness. It was a Test match wicket with a slightly longer covering of grass.
There is a cricket pitch in every cricket competition in the world that is green. The opposition turn up, they see the colour, they bowl first, the home side smash them everywhere. Week after week this happens at this ground. Because we as cricketers are bred to see green and assume green means bowl. Carnage, collapse and calamity.
Even Wikipedia agrees: “A natural pitch with grass longer or more moist than usual is described as a green pitch. This favours the bowler over the batsman as the ball can be made to behave erratically on longer or wet grass.” See, it is written on digital stone tablets. It must be true.
But we do not really know anything about pitches. Sure, the horticultural of us might be able to talk about the mix of seeds used. Maybe even the grading or watering requirements. But even that is not about pitches; it is about advanced gardening.
Mark Butcher, the former England batsman, says by the end of his career he would talk to the groundsman about the pitch just so he had something to laugh about in the upcoming days. A groundsman can tell you what a pitch has had done to it. It cannot tell you what an offcutter might do late on day four after the covers have been on and off and once really hot session has baked it.
Other than facing Mitchell Johnson or bowling to Hashim Amla, there are few worse jobs in cricket than standing in front of a TV camera and predicting what the wicket will do. It is like cricket weather reporting, but only using your eye and past experience. Isa Guha is currently doing it for Star Sports. She just stands in front of the pitch doing her best Tony Greig impression and guesses. That is what the job is. That is how most people in cricket do it. It is as scientific as the Spirit of Cricket. Guha will use her cricket experience to guess, and be as wrong as any great that has done it before her .
On November 7, 2002 Nasser Hussain made a mistake at the Gabba. But it was not a spontaneous mistake. Hussain had seen the ball nipping about in the nets. Thought his bowlers could use that well. Saw that Sheffield Shield sides had sent teams in. Felt the humid Queensland conditions. And then he decided to send Australia in to bat.
Hussain was not wet behind the ears. He had played all around the world. He had captained England 37 times before that Test. He was an experienced professional international cricketer, but even he admits he was “searching for something that wasn’t there” and using “guesswork”. At the close on day one Australia were 364 for 2. If someone with that much help and information can make such a bad call what hope do we all have on our couches.
Even when they are not green monsters, they are living breathing changing things. Or sometimes dead and decaying. And on the odd occasion they are kept in formaldehyde or cryogenically frozen. But mostly they change and grow depending on where the bowlers bowl, where they follow through, weather conditions, and everything else. And once you have worked them out, they have often changed again.
The perfect pitch could be one that has movement on day one, but not so much that you cannot bat. On days two and three it should flatten out, but not so much that bowlers want to self-harm. By day four it should be an even contest as the ball starts to misbehave a bit. On day five it should get a bit messy for batsmen as the pitch disintegrates.
That would be the utopian cricket pitch. But on day one people would complain about the movement. For days two and three they would complain about how flat the pitch is. By day four some would be complaining about how spicy the pitch is, and some how boring the match is. And on day five people would complain unless it gets close.
At Cape Town nine years after Hussain’s mistake there was a Test with an odd pitch. Australia batted out the first day on a helpful surface thanks to an as good a Michael Clarke hundred as any he had made before. The next day 23 wickets were taken. The day after only one was taken. On day one the pitch was seen as fair. On day two the pitch was seen as a minefield unfit for humans. On day three it was as flat as a pancake.
Mark Nicholas believes that despite bland batting pitches we still get results as modern cricketers try to move the game on and make mistakes. Considering only last week the pitch was doing everything it could not to give a result, and one small collapse from India almost forced one, you can see what he means.
Here the pitch did very little. For all the colour and fear, how many wickets have seamed so much that they were unplayable? Perhaps Stuart Binny’s wicket, but that should not have been out anyway. Maybe Pujara, as there can be little other reason for him missing a fairly straight ball. Ian Bell’s ball certainly behaved oddly, although it was the pace and bounce that took him by surprise as much as anything. That is three out of 13 wickets to seam bowlers. That is not even a monster from a kid’s film.
With only 16 wickets in two whole days of cricket, and rain to come, people have already started to suggest this could be a draw. It is a monster, it is a road, and it is a fair cricket pitch. The only certainty is that no matter what the pitch does, how it changes, what it produces, someone, somewhere will suggest Ishant Sharma was unlucky on it.
I am the son of a No. 11. My dad had no real skill as a batsman. He had patience and a decent technique, if the ball was full on off stump. He pretty much put his foot on the same spot every single delivery, almost oblivious to where the actual ball was delivered.
My dad had no cricket gear other than his red-stained whites, his boots, a ratty terry toweling hat and his box. “Batsmen have gear, bowlers have boots” he told me once. While in beard and belly he could resemble Mike Gatting, one look at him told everyone at the ground that nine wickets been taken, and the tenth would soon follow. You could often pour a beer as he walked out and it would still be ice cold when he returned. He was that guy. Last man. Jack. The bunny and ferret.
But he wore it proudly. He worked in the nets. He fought in the middle; every time with the thought that you don’t have the talent to go in and really bat, but your wicket will end your team’s innings, match or series. I don’t know how he did it every week.
Mike Atherton was left with a hard decision. Sky needed the interview from the amazing finish to the match at Headingley Test. James Anderson had been made Man of the Series, and as such, was required to speak to Sky. Atherton could clearly see the pain on Anderson, and the more he questioned, the more Anderson got upset. Soon it was tears. Atherton had to finish the interview.
Anderson had faced 55 balls in 81 minutes and only needed to face one more afterwards to save the series for his country. He was the hero right up until that ball. The man who failed to handle one short ball. The man who gave the catch. The man who lost the match. He was the last man in, and out.
All three Tests in England this year have had No. 11s do magical things. Nuwan Pradeep survived five balls from Stuart Broad, somehow, to draw the Lord’s Test. Anderson very nearly survived his. And Mohammed Shami’s unbeaten 51 at Trent Bridge made his 3.33 average look silly. Even in the West Indies just a few weeks back, Shane Shillingford made 53 off 29 balls in the West Indies.
But it’s not the summer of the No. 11, it’s the era of them. Ashton Agar’s 98 will be the single thing that defines him right up until he cures cancer. Tino Best was asked to mind the windows by England once, and then smashed them at Edgbaston. Zaheer Khan helped Our Sachin score his highest ever score in Test cricket. That, along with Anderson on day four, are the four highest scores ever made by No. 11.
Even Trent Boult has a fifty. They are giving them away with happy meals. Glenn McGrath’s slog sweep for six was an amazing moment in Test cricket history at the time. Now it’s just another No. 11 who eventually had that one magic day. Like when Monty Panesar saved that Test. And the other one. Graham Onions saved two Tests in the same series from No. 11 – against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. Nathan Lyon couldn’t be dismissed in the Ashes and before that top scored in an innings with a magnificent 14.
There are few players who can score a magnificent 14. No. 11s can.
Muttiah Muralitharan was perhaps one of the last great old school No. 11s. A man who regarded batting as a problem for other people. He bowled 44,039 deliveries in Test cricket, why would he want to be involved anymore? He wanted to slog, laugh, and go out and bowl.
It’s not the modern thinking. We are now in the era of hard working No. 11s who spend a great deal of time on their batting. Nathan Lyon went from a ferret to a bunny with some hard work. Lasith Malinga got better over the years. Morne Morkel really does try to bat well. Boult is a huge upgrade from Chris Martin. Part of this is due to the professionalism of the game. Unless you are Murali, you can’t really afford to throw the bat around for fun.
Then there is the equipment. Once the gentleman’s agreement between bowlers not hurling bouncers fell down, bowlers were fair game for short balls. That led to No. 11 batsmen backing away and swinging, not for fun, but for survival. Even in the 1990s, that was still a common thing for a No. 11 to do. But it changed. Coaches and captains wanted more of their tail. Glenn McGrath was challenged to go from probably one of the worst tailenders in history to someone who could provide. He did. He stood in line. He took balls on the body. At times he looked like recently caught fish flapping on a wharf. But he did get better. And so did everyone else.
No. 11s are never going to be good at facing fast bowlers, or even top quality spin. But they now get in line more often, watch the ball and don’t do anything silly. There is still not enough equipment to protect them, but the days of playing balls from square leg and smiling on your way off have seemingly left us.
Arshad Khan played nine tests. In one of them he made nine runs; from 184 minutes. Bhagwath Chandrasekhar had to overcome a withered arm to score his top score of 22. It was Lindsay Kline who turned the ball into the leg side to set up the run out for the first tied Test and Lindsay Kline who made 15 not out to draw another match for Australia. Jeff Thomson put on 70 with Allan Border over two days to fall all of four runs short of victory. Chuck Fleetwood-Smith’s uncharacteristic 5 not out helped Stan McCabe to his only double hundred. Geoff Allot’s 101 minute duck helped New Zealand draw a Test. The then-world record holder for ducks Danny Morrison batted for 166 minutes to draw a Test for New Zealand against England. He never played another Test.
Mike Whitney had to face an entire over of Sir Richard Hadlee to save a Test. It was a like a seven-year-old school kid holding a stick surviving an Invasion from the US Army. There are few sports, or endeavors in general, as silly as No. 11s batting – sending out the player in your side who is least qualified to do his job against, in Whitney’s case, one of the single greatest human beings to ever bowl a cricket ball. It’s made for humiliation and light relief.
These are not men made for batting. Ishant Sharma once went out on the field with two of the same gloves, in what was a cunning tactical move, or just a stupid thing that No. 11s do. Bob Willis once forgot to take out his bat.
James Anderson is a big player in the age of the No. 11 © Getty Images
Since George Hirst said, probably apocryphally, “we’ll get them in singles, Wilfred” to the No. 11 Rhodes, there have been 11 other occasions of No. 11s winning a Test with the bat. Every single one of these men are heroes worthy of every single honour and prize their countries can afford them; they should be given all the beer and skittles in all the lands. Courtney Walsh has done it twice.
When Walsh retired, he did so with the most ducks of any human being in Test history. But those innings of 0 not out and 4 not out are very special. It’s only at No. 11 where you can offer so much by doing so little.
To thank Jimmy Anderson for his amazing effort at Headingley in trying to save the match, he was given a pitch at Trent Bridge so brutally unfriendly that had it leapt up and punched him, the only surprise would have been that it leapt up. Alastair Cook used Anderson on it for 38 overs. When he finally came out to bat, his team were 159 runs behind. Had he got out then, he would have had one day off after bowling 38 overs.
Instead Jimmy stayed in. He didn’t like the short ball, but he knew this wasn’t Mitchel Johnson and the WACA. He was protected by Joe Root, but not always that maternally. He gave chances, but wasn’t any more lucky than most batsmen on this surface. He just batted. Maybe he batted just for his team. Maybe he batted just so he didn’t have to bowl again. But he scored the third-highest innings a man in his position has scored in over 2000 Test matches. His highest score was made. His first fifty was scored. The world record partnership was broken. And he became only the third man ever to know how the 80s feels like in a Test match at No 11.
Then he drove at a wide ball. The catch was taken. Anderson turned and started to leave the ground with his shoulders slumped. Then he remembered his real job and he jogged off. He had more work to do. His 81 was hurriedly given a standing ovation. His partner in the world record 198 stand was well behind him, Anderson left too quickly for them to be appreciated together. Anderson raised has bat to shoulder height only once just as he hit the Trent Bridge pavilion steps.
Anderson’s last two innings have been two of the greatest knocks by a No. 11 in the history of cricket. He was rewarded by losing a Test series on one and having to bowl ten minutes later on the other.
Anderson’s eighth ball of the Indian second innings was edged, Prior missed it. Anderson walked back to his mark again.
On December 24, 1953 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa were 259 for 8 at the close of play against New Zealand. The next day, the players had a rest and a lovely Christmas lunch. But there was a massive mud slide at Tangiwai. It took out a bridge. A train went through and couldn’t stop before slamming into the Whangaehu River.
151 people died, including the fiancée of New Zealand seamer Bob Blair. On December 26, play resumed. Blair stayed back at his hotel to grieve. The flags were at half-mast as South Africa made 271.
New Zealand’s innings started terribly, and it got worse as the day went on. Only the legendary Bert Sutcliffe could handle the ferocious Neil Adcock and the inform David Ironside. But he was sent to hospital after a brutal bouncer to the head. Sutcliffe came back out to bat, his head covered in a bandage. With only the tail left, he went past the follow-on. Eventually, at 154, the ninth wicket is taken, and both teams start to walk off the field.
But there is a No. 11 batsman. Bob Blair walks out. Sutcliffe puts his arm around him. The crowd applaud Blair’s act. In the next ten minutes they score 33, mostly in sixes. Sutcliffe hits many of them. Blair hits one of them.
It is one of the greatest moments in cricket history, and all that happened is a No. 11 walked out to bat.
My dad made two 47s batting at No. 11. And one day, while I was old enough to understand what was happening, he hit two sixes over midwicket. That is the only positive memory I have of watching my dad bat.
Anderson’s innings was another piece of history for cricket’s most comical and undervalued batting position.
Every No. 11 needs that one great moment. That amazing draw, a nerve-killing win, the best comical dismissal, a six off a fast bowler, a nagging never-ending partnership, a proper score or that time they came out when they really shouldn’t have. They deserve it for having to suffer the many embarrassments of batting where they bat: the bad decisions from grumpy umpires moving the game forward; the confusion at not understanding which way the ball is spinning; trying to face a ball that is bowled at a speed quicker than you can see.
Until you know what it is like to walk out on the field as a No. 11, with the opposition sniggering, and your team preparing to take the field behind you, it’s impossible to know what batting at No. 11 is really like. It takes a special person to bat last.
A young boy gets on a motorbike for the first time. The instructions are given to him. He looks on quietly. People expect him to struggle. Instead he takes to it fairly well. Muddy dirt tracks are handled with ease. He jumps off little ramps and holds on. He mostly works out the brakes and how to turn and tries, but fails, to pull off a wheelie. Eventually he stops, and the next boy gets on. A boy who has ridden a motorbike for years: yet he makes a simple mistake and rides straight into a BBQ.
Alastair Cook’s first ball catches him by surprise. He has more Test hundreds than any other England batsman but he reacts late to the movement into him and an inside edge ends up at backward square leg. It is not a stunning show of confidence as he wanders to the other end confused.
Mohammed Shami’s first ball is a length ball, India’s No. 11 rocked forward and defends with the sort of certainty a man with a Test Average of 3.33 really shouldn’t have. He’s not overawed by his first moment in England. He’s not overawed by facing Stuart Broad. He’s not even overawed by the sudden collapse that has led to him being in. He’s just playing a forward defensive shot.
Cook handles the next few balls fine. A yorker is dug out. He pushes to the legside looking for runs. He is handling the pitch with no demons like it’s a pitch with no demons. The ball is not swinging or seaming.
Shami also handles his first few balls well. They bowl short, and he defends well and misses when trying to attack. He cracks one to point. And turns a ball into the leg side to get off the mark.
Shami’s first boundary is a heave over the legside against a confused James Anderson. Shami is full of confidence having survived for a while and is now flexing a bit of muscle. He also whips a ball off his pads so well that he beats a man in the deep. He smacks Moeen Ali long and deep with a dance down the pitch. He cracks a short ball to the point boundary and no fielders move. And then to finally get to his 50 he hits a Test bowler with 358 Test wickets over the sightscreen.
Cook gets a ball on his hip and turns it to the rope.
Shami’s innings is not all grace and beauty. He tries to upper cut one to third man. He mistimes one so badly he can’t even find a fielder. Almost loses his off stump. Almost loses his toe. And is actually caught behind, despite the fact England didn’t hear it. It was a quality innings for a No. 11, but not a quality innings.
Cook’s innings isn’t quality.
Cook faces nine of his ten balls from Shami, including the last one. Getting bowled around your legs can look unlucky. Bowlers don’t plan for it very often. And even when they do, it rarely works. This is the sort of ball that Cook could have literally flicked to the leg side with a blindfold on, handcuffed upside down in a tank of water. Now his head leads away from the ball, his body tumbles after it.
Cook has never been pretty, but now he’s ungainly and needlessly mobile. He can’t stand up properly and exposes the leg stump. The ball flicks his pads and instead of rolling away safely for a leg bye it slams into legs tump. Cook has lost his way so much he can almost see the ball hitting the stumps.
Mohammed Shami had made a 50 before today, for Bengal U-22s four years ago. Alastair Cook has made 35 fifties at Test Level. Not forgetting 19 fifties in ODIs. There are also a few hundreds. And he once made 294. But Cook hasn’t scored more than 51 in his last five Tests.
Today the bunny with no batting pedigree scored more runs than the man with 8,130 runs.
Today two men batted: one with little expectation or hope, the other with fear and uncertainty. One made an unbeaten. The other hit the BBQ.
Sri Lanka’s GDP ranking in 2013 was 112, the UK were 21. They have a very small population compared to the other subcontinent cricket nations. Transparency International ranks them as the 91st least-corrupt nation on earth. They have only one really big modern city. Their cricket is mismanaged by selfish inept politicians. The team is signed off by the government. They don’t always pay their cricketers.
But this year they have beaten the world. And now they’ve beaten England with men who have lost their houses in tsunamis, been shot at by terrorists, competition winners and a tubby man who works at a bank.
Sri Lanka is a special place.
At the Sampath Bank headquarters in Colombo there is a round-faced man smiling happily wearing a polo shirt with the bank’s logo on it. He is being felicitated. He is a finger-spinning maestro. He is a World T20 winner. And this man, Rangana Herath, is also an employee at the bank.
Not in a ceremonial way. Not just to beef up their cricket team. But Herath works at the bank. Doing things that people do in banks. He probably has his own coffee mug there. When Herath sees the Sri Lanka cricket schedule, one of his first calls is to his bank manager. To ask for leave to travel to the tour.
Herath worked there when he made his comeback to Test cricket in 2009. Herath worked there this while he took more Test wickets than any other bowler in 2012. Herath worked there even while he was ranked the second-best Test bowler on earth.
Twenty-four days before his felicitation, Herath took 1-23 in four overs. Sri Lanka won the World T20 that day.
Sri Lanka Cricket is currently in debt. An exact amount is unknown. It was at one stage supposed to be US$70m. That is to pay for new stadiums that replaced the old stadiums that were in some cases not that old. This led them to not pay their players.
According to Forbes, MS Dhoni was worth US$30m last year. He captained the side that Sri Lanka beat in the World T20 final. In sport, money does buy wins. Internationally, less so. But Sri Lanka are playing cricket off the field in a way that the other countries haven’t done for decades. Their support staff is understaffed, undertrained, and at times seemingly not able to do their own research. They rely on the touring journalists for a lot that cricket board staff would usually do. They are comically unprofessional.
This is the first Test series that Sri Lanka had sent players over early to properly acclimatise before the tour. Herath and Shaminda Eranga both came over. It was a step towards professionalism in a sport that has been professional for years.
North of Colombo there is a town called Chilaw. There is an ancient Hindu temple in Chilaw that was once visited by Gandhi. Every year they have the Munneswaram festival. It was once famous for pearls. And they have a first-class cricket team the Chilaw Marians Cricket Club.
Shaminda Eranga comes from Chilaw.
Like many in Sri Lanka, the cricketers from Chilaw are largely invisible inside the system. There are Test-quality cricketers playing on the streets of the Hikkaduwa right now that will never play with a hard cricket ball in their life.
Eranga was not playing first-class cricket. He was not in the system. He shouldn’t have made it at all. But like his seam-bowling partner Nuwan Pradeep, he made his way to a fast-bowling competition. He bowled fast. But five guys bowled faster. Somehow the sixth-fastest bowler in that completion was picked for Chilaw Marians Cricket Club. Five years later he would clean bowl Brad Haddin with his second ball in international cricket.
Eranga is the closest thing Chilaw has produced to a pearl in a very long time.
Herath has been in Test cricket since 1999. He invented a carom ball. He disappeared back into first-class cricket and the bank, and was in club cricket in England when he was picked for his comeback.
There are no billboards in Sri Lanka with his face on them. He’s not famous like Kumar, Mahela, Lasith or Angelo. Even Ajantha Mendis is sponsored by chicken sausages. Herath may be a Test bowler with over 200 wickets who has carried a poor attack for years, but he’s just a really good player, not a star or legend.
Against Stuart Broad, Herath had bowled around the wicket with a low arm action. Broad takes a big step forward when he defends spinners. Herath bowled the ball exactly from the right angle, with the right amount of turn, to ensure that Broad would miss one.
Against James Anderson, he bowled over the wicket with a high arm action. Anderson gets right over the ball when it’s full, and can dangle his bat when it’s slightly shorter. Herath was trying to find either of these two dismissals.
Broad missed his, Anderson survived.
Eranga spent most of the first innings not getting anywhere. There was some swing, but not enough. He bowled a great line and length to Sam Robson, but couldn’t get the edge. England just moved further and further away with the game. Even the second new ball did nothing for him. Sri Lanka were all but gone. But then they got the wicket of Ian Bell. It was Eranga’s wicket. He added Moeen Ali’s wicket to it. The next morning he had Chris Jordan and Anderson as well. They were still behind, but they were within some kind of touch.
In the second innings, Eranga bowled the worst he had in the series. At Lord’s he was the pick of the bowling, in the first innings at Headingley he inspired the comeback. But when his team really needed him to help win the game in this innings, he couldn’t get it right. He lost his line and length. He didn’t make people play. He was too short. The only time he looked good was when he just tried to knock Joe Root’s mouth off. That didn’t work either. Then when he took a wicket, that of Jordan, he also overstepped.
Eranga’s first 23.4 overs were just not great.
It was probably mostly luck that he received the last over. Dhammika Prasad had bowled the second last over. Herath could not outfox Anderson. Pradeep looked spent. And Angelo Mathews had lost his first innings magic.
Eranga was just the man who was left.
Sri Lanka feel like they don’t get the credit they deserve. They feel that when they win, it is Yuvraj’s (or whoever else that game) fault. Or the home conditions helped them. Or the other team was just useless. On Monday at Headingley, they started one of the great comebacks in modern Test cricket. Their captain played one of the great knocks of modern Test cricket. They were on the verge of their first ever series win in England. Their first major series win outside Asia for almost 20 years.
And the next day the cricket world talked about the other captain who had a shocker.
Before the tour they lost their coach to the opposition. While here they have been accused of breaking the spirit of cricket. Their spinner was accused of breaking the laws of cricket. Their bowlers were pop gun and a glorified county attack. Their batmen were suspect against the moving and short ball. They would be bombed by the short ball. They were sent in to be annihilated here. They felt under siege.
At Lord’s it got even worse when Broad and Anderson attacked them with the ball, and the English players, lead by the extremely mouthy Root, came at them very hard. Pradeep was almost beheaded. After that they were upset by Cook’s comments about Sachithra Senanayake’s action. And England had dominated them for eight straight days of cricket.
They were sick and tired of being plucky cheerful losers. They wanted a win. They saw one. And they became very vocal. Root’s ears will be ringing from his entire innings. Broad’s unscheduled toilet break 20 minutes into his innings probably got more of the same.
This is not the strongest team Sri Lanka have brought to England. They’ve had Murali, Dilshan, Jayasuriya and Vaas to bring before. This team has two all-time greats, one potential great, and the second-best spinner they have ever had.
It also has Nuwan Pradeep and his bowling average of 72.78. It has Dimuth Karunaratne, who is immune to going out early, or making runs from his starts. Lahiru Thirimanne, who stopped believing runs existed. And Prasanna Jayawardene, who looked a spent force with bat and gloves.
Mahela Jayawardene never made a hundred. Herath never took a five-for. Nuwan Kulasekera was dropped after the first Test. But people kept stepping up. They had batted an entire fifth day to save an overseas Test only once before. But they all chipped in and did it with one of the worst batsmen in world cricket somehow surviving. Their bowling could never compete with England’s, so their fielders took many more of their chances. Their middle order slipped up in the third innings at Headingley, so their tail made runs.
It was gritty, tough, bits-and-pieces cricket that mostly was just keeping them in touch of England, nothing more. They just refused to be beaten. They just refused to go away. They didn’t smile, or play nice. They clawed and screamed.
On paper this Sri Lanka should never beat England. They should have been outgunned in almost every way. In preparation. Financial. Backroom. Coaching. Facilities. And even in the players who were involved. Virtually every single thing about England should have been better than Sri Lanka.
Anderson was playing for England by the time he was 21. He’s the embodiment of a professional cricketer. You can see his face on the back of buses in London. He has won games with the ball all round the world. He’s saved games with the bat. Today he faced 54 balls with the knowledge that any mistake and his team would lose a Test, a series, become a joke. Yet he played almost every ball well. Stoically. Until Sri Lanka very nearly gave up.
On the 55th ball, a world-class professional sportsman was bounced by the sixth-fastest bowler from the North Western Province and caught by a chubby slow guy from Kurunegala.
The pearl and the bank clerk. Sri Lanka is a special place.