The second Test between England and Sri Lanka came to its anticlimactic end at a sparsely populated ‘Home of Cricket’ yesterday. The visitors were given little opportunity other than to block out time after the Family of the House had left them the mean spirited task of making 343 from a parsimonious 58 overs.
In order to get seven Tests, three against Sri Lanka and four against India, into the damp crevices of an English summer, the first two Test of this series had to be played in consecutive weeks. The Powers That Be insist on at least three days passing between these matches – one for travel and two for practice. Consequently this second Test had to begin on a Friday.
The great British public are generally willing to take a day or two off at the end of the week but some irrationality makes them feel obliged to do some work when a new week begins. Hence more than 30,000 people will willing pay high prices (or receive/give valuable hospitality from/to their clients/consultants) to attend on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, but they unpatriotically and wilfully stay away on Mondays and Tuesdays.
In this Friday-starting match, the ancestral home was therefore its wonderful, buzzing, breathing, life-enhancing self for just three of the five days scheduled for this match and was, then, transformed into the the lifeless husk of a mansion that has seen better days for any dramatic conclusion as it had against all the odds in Cardiff.
Add to this the tactical concerns raised by this being the second of a three match tie where a draw for England secured that the scion would not lose the series, insert some periods of rain, a few endless delays and the refusal of both sides to bowl even the minimum number of overs possible and you should get a monumentally hacked-off set of customers.
This is no way to run a country house, let alone a game of cricket.
The issue that hung in the air from yesterday was Pietersen. He had been given an encouraging and supportive cheer when going to the wicket towards the end of day four and again on the final morning. As any prodigal son, he was loved, lauded, forgiven and enjoyed when scoring 72 in the way that only a Pietersen can, thrills and spills.
But his ‘special adviser’ Botham could tell him that the period from ‘Lion of England’ to ‘Cad’ can be as short as one year. Having been given their devotion Pietersen is expected to deliver thrills every time. It is a Mephistophelean bargain that ends in tears.
Cook appeared to bat more for himself than his team in reaching a hundred in 223 balls. In contrast his 96 in the first innings had taken 164 balls. Where was the sense in this?
In sport pressure starts as a uniformity. In a team your own players as well as opponents can then reduce the pressure on those who follow or increase it. Players have an acute sense of justice or injustice as to the pressure bequeathed to them by their forebears.
Morgan and then Prior were sent out with instructions to get a move on and to give of their wickets freely. This does not come over well when an Eldest Son has been left a relatively undemanding century.
Having sacrificed himself for the family cause, Prior broke a window in the South Wing of the old house. The causal links between Prior opening the dressing room door and the pane shattering onto spectators below is uncertain. The links between Prior leaving the dressing room to start his futile undertaking and his return, run out for 4, are not.
The MCC, as any well mannered trustee would, has refused to accept an offer of payment for the repair by Prior. Strauss, Cook and Flower might consider making a large and private donation of their time to A Chance to Shine. The damage is not to the window, but to the way this bequest will influence youngsters copying with their own disappointments.
The need to find a solution when Anderson returns to fitness will add further tensions to the family when the team is announced.
Along the other end of the landing in the away dressing room there were few occasions for unease or kit throwing. The sides shook hands with an hour (or laughably 15 overs) to go with Sri Lanka on 127 for 3. The few, who had loyally stayed to watch the presentations, departed to their tubes, buses and trains, leaving the glazier to his task.
This match has bequeathed some very serious questions.