Monday, December 24, 2007


England embarrassed in Galle.

When my television told me that England had collapsed to 81 all out in the third and final test against Sri Lanka in Kandy. My first thought was - "Oh dear, Muthiah Muralitharan has 'done us' again".

I could almost have handled that - The world's greatest bowler once again exposing England's inability to play spin.

But when I looked at the scoreboard - I was faced with no less than 4 wickets from Chaminda Vaas, 2 from the debutant Chanaka Welegedara, and a paltry one wicket for Murali - In fact he hardly got his hands on the ball and bowled just 4 overs.

This has been a poor series for Murali against England - he's only taken 19 wickets in three tests. Compare that to 24 last year in England, and 26 in Sri Lanka in '04 (both 3 match series).

Back in '98 when Sri Lanka were only deemed important enough for one test in England - the young Murali changed all that with 7 for 155 and 9 for 65 at the Oval.

Ever since he's been like one of those painful rashes that never goes away. In 16 tests he's taken 112 Wickets at an average of 20.06. Essentially, we are his bunnies.

I already knew that. But what is more scary is that England, who once prided itself on being a tough nut to crack away from home, is having yet another overseas implosion.

The last time we dipped our toes in foreign waters we got badly bitten by Australia - It was 5 tests to nil - and this, after we had beaten the 'auld enemy' so convincingly (sort of) in '05.

The winter before that it was a two-nil whiplashing in Pakistan, followed by a drawn series against a vulnerable post-Ganguly India.

So what's going wrong 'away from home' for a team who have been ranked number two in the ICC rankings over the last few years.'

Well Simon Hughes from the Daily Telegraph thinks he has the answer for this latest embarrassment.

"But how do you explain such a dramatic imbalance? Well, here goes. Fifteen days of Test cricket in three weeks. Searing, oppressive heat. Ninety per cent humidity. Remorseless, relentless leather chasing. All these add up to a huge toll on the bodies and minds of the chasing pack."

Hughes' theory is that the cricket calendar is to blame. Too much cricket he says, is getting squeezed into too little time and its breaking the players. This he says, is why the final test in test series all over the world are often so one-sided.

The former Middlesex bowler adds that the England seamers were 'broken men after 3 arduous weeks of scant reward'.

Well I'm sorry but this argument falls down flat when you know this: Back in 2001 England played 3 tests in Sri Lanka in 24 days - almost exactly the same schedule as this current series.

England came back from one-nil down in that series to win the final two tests AND the rubber.

The bowlers seemed remarkably fresh in that final test in Colombo and bowled the Sri Lankans out for 241 and, ironically enough, 81.

I was at that test and the story doing the rounds at the Sinhalese Sports Club was that the sudden appearance of a damp patch, on a length, just before the match, was a dastardly plot - hatched to help Murali.

The great man took one wicket in the match - Robert Croft, that other great purveyor of spin, took 5.

But at the risk of sounding more knowledgeable than a man who has played 300 more first class games than me - I will say this - 1.The tracks in that series gave a lot more encouragement to the bowlers. And 2. This Sri Lankan side is a lot more established.

Chaminda Vaas has always been unplayable if he gets the ball swinging AND seaming. Murali we already know about.

And then there is the fact that Kumar Sangakkara is number one and Mahela Jayawardene is number two in the ICC World batting rankings. Now we all know that this is not the ultimate indicator of their talent, but it is a sure sign that they have been scoring more runs, more often than anyone else over the last few months.

Jayawardene has scored 374 runs in this series (in 4 innings), Sangakkara 291 (also in 4 innings).

All of this means that Sri Lanka are a hard side to beat at home - which is why, in the last 6 years only Australia and Pakistan have done it.

Oh - and I almost forgot - This England side is nowhere the quality of the Ashes team of 2005. Steve Harmison is still not back to his best - Simon Jones is long gone - Freddy Flintoff is injured, Andrew Strauss is off colour, Paul Collingwood isn't doing much with bat or ball. Monty Panesar is not coming through quite as we'd like - and Matt Prior is out of his depth and needs to be replaced.

Oh and Kevin Pietersen got a ball in Galle that made Jeff Thomson, in his pomp look slow and predicable.

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