England go 1-0 up after astonishing innings win over woeful Sri Lanka
Close: First Test, day five, Cardiff
Match score: England 496-5 dec. (Bell 103*, Morgan 14*; Cook 133, Trott 203) beat Sri Lanka 400 (Paranavitana 66, Dilshan 50, P Jayawardene 112) and 82 (Tremlett 4-40, Swann 4-16) by an innings and 14 runs Full scorecard
When the rain was drifting across the Swalec Stadium, the Cardiff sky slate grey and not a soul in the stands, the prospect of a result such as this was not just implausible, it was an impossibility.
When England declared their first innings after adding only five runs, batting on simply to allow Ian Bell to reach his 13th Test hundred, there were still no signs of what was to come later in a period of sun-kissed, early-evening mayhem.
Tillakaratne Dilshan, the Sri Lanka captain, did not shirk responsibility afterwards. The batsmen were to blame, of course, and the senior batsmen, including himself, were the chief culprits.
England, with only two fit seam bowlers, put their opponents under pressure, for sure, but this was hardly Ambrose and Walsh against a terrified mid-90s England side. The brittleness of Sri Lanka’s batting does not bode well for the rest of the series, the second Test of which starts at Lord’s on Friday.
In his post-match comments, Andrew Strauss alluded to the 2006-07 Ashes Test at Adelaide when England collapsed horribly, their minds infested by the genius of Shane Warne. They never recovered and lost the series 5-0. Scars of a defeat like this can take a long time to heal.
“The full pressure of Test cricket can come to bear quite quickly and you need guys to stand up and come through that,” Strauss said, adding that this result was a “bonus win”.
Two years ago James Anderson and Monty Panesar clung on to deny Australia in the first match of the Ashes, Cardiff’s only previous Test.
The ground is developing something of a reputation for slow-burners though this match never even had a flame underneath it until Chris Tremlett had Tharanga Paranavitana caught by Strauss in the slips with the 12th ball of Sri Lanka’s second innings.
“It’s one of the most extraordinary matches any of us have ever played in but only this morning I was thinking it was one of the drabbest I’d played in,” Strauss said.
Unlike the Ashes in 2009, there were sadly only a few hundred here to see this scarcely believable and Strauss talked of the “big challenge to create our own intensity”.
Sri Lanka started their innings 96 runs behind England with a theoretical 51 overs left to bat. The expectation was that once we reached the last 15 overs, or the final hour, that the captains would shake hands on a draw and move on to Lord’s.
In fact, the innings was over in less than 25 overs and under two hours, Sri Lanka blown away by a mixture of England’s ferocious professionalism and their own lackadaisical approach.
At tea they were 33 for 2 with both openers gone to Tremlett who reconfirmed his Ashes status as a very serious bowler indeed. No longer the big man with a small heart, he looks every inch the nasty fasty. This Cardiff pitch has had some sideways movement but it has been generally slow and low but Tremlett’s extra height and pace has extracted troublesome bounce from it.
When he had Mahela Jayawardene caught at slip by Strauss from the fifth ball after tea, one just started to wonder. But when Graeme Swann took the fifth wicket – Kumar Sangakkara also caught by the England captain at slip – the odds of an England victory had shortened from possible to probable.
Rangana Herath, the spinner who did for Kevin Pietersen, played the one really bad shot of the innings when he was lbw trying to sweep Swann. That was 52 for 8 and since tea Sri Lanka had lost six wickets in 39 balls for 19 runs.
There was then a mini-revival by Sri Lanka and a minor scare when Ian Bell collided with Stewart Walters, the 12th man, as the pair went for a catch. But by then the victory was as good as in the bag.
Shot of the day: Not really a batsman’s day but the left-handed No.8 Thisara Perera showed some class in driving Tremlett through extra cover a couple of times.
Ball of the day: Tremlett was outstanding: any of a number of brutish lifters he bowled to Perera.
Catch of the day: Only a few minutes after being almost knocked out by the 12th man Walters, Bell took a superb right-haned reaction catch, diving forward at short leg to dismiss Perera off Tremlett.
Commentary of the day: “That’s garbage. I’m sorry but that’s terrible batting.” Michael Vaughan on Herath’s doomed attempt to sweep Swann.
John Stern is a former editor of The Cricketer
Follow him on Twitter @Cricketer_John