Alastair Cook did a slow depressing jog from the ground. His team had taken the final Sri Lanka wicket of the series.
England were scattered across the ground in various positions. All looking exhausted and frustrated. They slowly left the ground to a small applause. An automatic applause, like saying sorry to someone who has bumped into you on the street.
Cook had already left the ground before his team; he had a trudging jog off to prepare for the chase. There was no applause as he left.
“Oh you pretty sweet red little baby, I love the way you smell and swing. I cannot wait for you to help me. You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for you.”
England couldn’t have shown any less regard for the old ball had they all stopped to spit on it. They might as well have offered Sri Lanka 40 runs off the first seven overs of the day as a deal to move the game on. Offering players like Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews a warm up is never, ever, ever a good idea. As Sri Lanka started to hit the ball wherever they wanted, England looked more feeble and completely idiotic.
And despite all this rush to the new ball, Moeen Ali only received one of England’s throwaway overs. The last one. It was the only over he would bowl in the first 167 minutes of play.
Then they got that most fetishised of items, the second new ball. But instead of just bowling short or wide with the new ball, as they did on Sunday, they combined the two. If cricket had a dictionary, this bowling was its definition of awful. James Anderson looked tired, injured, grumpy and was clearly upset with the footmarks. After much short wideness, Anderson recalibrated and bowled full down the leg side. Stuart Broad’s short and wide almost worked. A poor ball, received a poor shot, before a poor effort from Ian Bell dropped it.
By this stage in the innings, England’s beehive is so erratic you can’t even see the little shadowy batsmen behind it. Their pitch mat looks like someone dropped a plate of food. And then vomited on it.
Then England found a slight ray of sunshine. Anderson got Jayawardene. Liam Plunkett took two more and got himself on a hat-trick. Sri Lanka’s terribly feeble, virtually useless tail was right there, right for England to bite the head off of. Even during this glorious time when wickets fell magically around them, England still used a review for an lbw no human being has been drunk enough to ever give out. But Sri Lanka are seven wickets down, less than 200 ahead. This is England’s time.
The hat-trick ball attempt could have been one where Cook showed Mathews he wasn’t that worried about him, that he felt England had got their swag back. That they were ready to get back on top. He could have brought the field in, even a few catchers, and then kept them in the ring just to change the game a bit on Mathews after three quick wickets. Instead the field had many sweepers. Virtually no catchers. If he was unlucky enough to be caught on the hat-trick ball, it was likely to be at wide long-on.
Strangely he was not caught that way.
England then played every old cricketer’s favourite game of hoping they can dismiss the tailender by stealing a couple of balls at him in between the batsman hitting them for boundaries. It’s hard at the best of times, and harder when Angelo Mathews is batting like the world has been waiting for him and three of your seamers have abandoned line and length.
England went after it with their last bit of energy, Mathews smacked the ball back over their head and laughed at them.
By this point, Sri Lanka’s No. 9 Rangana Herath felt so comfortable he pulled out the back-foot cover drive. Which against an international bowler is like leading with your right. Instead he scoops it up in the air. Broad looks up, moves the wrong way, then moves slowly the right way, and then chases it like a dog who wouldn’t know what do to with it if he got it.
Mathews dominated them so much, they were lucky if they got to start an over against Herath early on. Chris Jordan had one. Jordan started with a shin-high full toss. Herath pushed it through covers and even gave himself enough time to run three. So then England decided to try a 7-2 off-side field to keep Mathews on strike. Jordan fired one down the leg side with no one behind square. Had England hit the boundary for Mathews, they could not have been any more accommodating. They did manage to keep Mathews on strike at the end of the over – he missed a knee-high full toss off the last ball. This was a horribly painful over for England fans, but it wasn’t much worse than any of the others.
England fluttered away another review on a ball that hit Herath on the groin. When Mathews finally got to 99, England didn’t seem to notice. Cook didn’t bring in the sweepers. Sure, Mathews would have got his hundred anyway. He may have got it if England had asked the 300 members of the crowd to come out. So, why delay the inevitable.
Broad tried an over of around the wicket, intentionally-down-the-leg-side bowling with Matt Prior standing at a fine leg slip. He is wided straight away. Anderson tries the opposite, an over of as wide as he can outside off stump. He’s wided as well. And then no one thinks to put out a third man, so Mathews flashes it exactly there. England have now even run out of stupid ideas. And that stage, England’s most sensible decision would have been letting Sri Lanka bat on too long to force a result.
Herath swept on to the back of his pad flap, it bounced up beautifully for Prior to take a quick-thinking catch. Prior saw it. Prior made the ground. Prior dropped the catch. Prior’s face is in the dirt. A visual representation of his keeping over the last few Tests.
England are saved the embarrassment of Herath’s fifty only by Mathews running him out. They finally take Mathews with a knee-high full toss. He had clearly used up all his awesome. Shaminda Eranga slaps England around, which at this stage is basically cricket abuse.
England need 350 runs with 10 wickets in hand.
Gary Ballance misses the quick skiddy one. Sam Robson nicks off chasing on the up. Ian Bell misses the one that nipped back. But then comes in the nightwatchman.
In cricket’s most rubbish position is Plunkett. While he may be a massive presence out on the ground, it doesn’t intimidate much as nightwatchman. There is a bit of King Kong about him, Sri Lanka are buzzing loudly and firing often. Plunkett’s been forced to climb the building only to get to the top and realise it’s pointless and is now clinging to the building rather uselessly. Then, instead of being brought down by enemy fire after safely putting Alastair Cook down carefully, Plunkett just jumped off the building taking Cook with him. One last mistake, falling to earth with the most pathetic of drives, confused and upset.
England need 293 runs with 5 wickets in hand.
England are 39 for 0.
Dhammika Prasad is bowling his skiddy medium fast stuff from over the wicket. He drops one short on off stump. To the left-hander it is going well outside off stump. The batsman decides to pull. The ball doesn’t get up as he would like. It takes the under edge and ducks back into the stumps.
Alastair Cook rocks his head back. Looks at the screen on as he leaves the field on his own. There is no applause again.