Vishwa Fernando explains how the hosts’ ensured the visitors could score only at 2.66 over the last 103 overs
Upon realising that the Pallekele surface was offering little to the quicks and even less to spinners in the early part of this Test, Sri Lanka changed their bowling strategy. Where they had begun the Test with hopes of bundling Bangladesh out cheaply with their trio of seam bowlers, they decided that instead of chasing wickets, they would look to dry up the runs.
This was what left-arm seamer Vishwa Fernando revealed after play on day two, and the numbers do bear this out. Where Sri Lanka had conceded runs at 3.93 an over in the first session of the match, they had substantially tightened up their bowling by the second day. Since tea on day one, Sri Lanka’s economy rate has been 2.66, over the course of 103 overs.
“We didn’t get as much support from the wicket as we thought, and we felt it was dry underneath and it’s now a batting wicket,” Fernando, who picked up two wickets on the first day, said. “After the first session we knew there wasn’t much for the quicks or the spinners. We tried to get wickets yesterday, and because we tried to get wickets, we leaked a few runs. Tamim Iqbal was able to score quickly against us.
“Today, the plan was to cut down the runs and fence them in. We tried to bowl patiently and get the wickets that way. I think we did that.”
Fernando and his seam-bowling colleagues are now working under the team’s new bowling coach: Chaminda Vaas. Vaas had identified Fernando as a promising bowler several years ago, and had worked closely with him on a previous stint with the national team too.
“That Vaas aiya came in to the set-up is a big source of strength for us, because of the experience he has and the way he shares it,” Fernando said. “He talks us through situations. His tactics and bowling style are similar to mine. I personally have a lot of things to learn from him.”
Since December 2020, Fernando has also played five of the seven Tests Sri Lanka have been involved in – playing both matches in South Africa and West Indies, before this one. Sri Lanka quicks rarely get this much playing time at a stretch, and Fernando spoke of the good this consistency in selection has done for him: “As a player, being able to play a lot of matches in a short period, you get a bit of experience, and once that happens our confidence improves. I got to play matches consistently in recent months, so my confidence level is in a good place. It becomes easier to perform.”
Zim vs Pak 1st Test – Fawad Alam
Pakistan centurion says the slowness of the pitch and the old ball forced the batters to score slowly most of the day
Pakistan have a lead of 198 runs with four wickets in hand in the first-innings exchange with Zimbabwe in Harare, but the scoring rate has hovered between 2.7 and 2.8. Fawad Alam, who scored his fourth Test century on the day, defended the batters’ approach, blaming the slowness of the pitch for the numbers on the board.
“The batsmen know how the pitch is behaving. You must have seen that the ball hasn’t been coming on to the bat, and the pitch is getting slower with every passing session,” Alam said. “The ball was keeping low, but we tried to score as much as we could. They [Zimbabwe] even took the new ball late, and when they did, we scored more freely.
“Credit should be given to the openers [Imran Butt and Abid Ali], the way they played and laid a solid foundation for the others. They might have scored slowly, but it helped us later on, allowing us to dominate.”
Zimbabwe took the second new ball after 105.1 overs. Pakistan scored 59 runs in the first session in 32 overs and even went had a 17 overs without boundary at one stage. They got 99 in the second session, and then 113 in the final one thanks to the 45 runs in the last ten overs, when Hasan Ali hit two sixes.
It wasn’t all Pakistan, though, as two wickets in quick succession – Azhar Ali followed by captain Babar Azam who fell for a golden duck – gave Zimbabwe a lift too. But Alam, in the main, made sure Pakistan came out on top by the end.
“There was a plan to score 300 today but we were 25 runs behind,” he said. “It’s mainly because, when both Babar and Azhar got out, the pressure was on us for a while.
“Scoring on slower tracks is always difficult as we have to create gaps to find runs. But it was a good day overall, and we still have three days in hand and tomorrow we want to add as much as we can to give our bowlers enough to attack. I can’t say how many, maybe another 50 or 100, but whatever we get we will keep them under pressure and wrap them within it.”
Recent Match Report – Essex vs Worcs Group 1 2021
Worcestershire 37 for 0 trail Essex 561 for 8 dec (Westley 113, Lawrence 90, Walter 65, Harmer 57*) by 524 runs
You have to be careful what you wish for. Not so long ago, many of us bemoaned these early-season contests as they tended to provide too much assistance for seam bowlers. How were batsmen to learn to play the long innings that define Test matches on surfaces where 200 is par, we asked. And how are young spinners to bowl the volume of overs to gain experience?
The prospect of too much assistance for seamers didn’t seem so bad here. Yes, Worcestershire’s spinner – a leg-spinner, at that – had the opportunity to bowl 46 overs. And yes, several Essex batsmen had the opportunity to build the sort of long innings that define Test cricket.
But in terms of entertainment? Well, for much of the first two days, this game has had all the competitive edge of seal clubbing. And, for a while on day two – as Essex extended their first innings beyond tea and registered their highest score for five years – it wouldn’t have come as a complete surprise if they had used the carcass of a Worcestershire bowler to make a pair of gloves.
None of this should be read as a criticism of either side. Essex were admirably ruthless in grinding out the score that gives them the best chance of victory in this game and, despite not claiming a single bowling bonus point (which means they hadn’t taken a third wicket by the time they had bowled 110 overs), Worcestershire were admirably resilient in making them fight for nearly every run. Only in the last couple of hours of their innings did Essex take the run-rate above three-an-over – a late acceleration took it to 3.22 – and Ed Barnard’s final figures- he conceded 59 from his 30 overs – are testament to the excellent professional that he has become. Worcestershire have now spent four of their most recent seven days of cricket in the field. Barnard will scarcely have bowled a poor delivery in that time.
And maybe the ends will justify the means for Essex. There were increasing signs that the ball was keeping low as the second-day progressed and Worcestershire could struggle against the spin of Simon Harmer, in particular. But just because a rock-fall can be dramatic, it doesn’t mean the 10,000 years of erosion that led to it is terrific entertainment. And the concern here is that such ‘entertainment’, in this day and age, is niche to the point of being an extremely tough sell.
Which leads us to the age-old question: what’s the purpose of county cricket? Because if it’s just to prepare players for Test cricket, you might just about justify this sort of surface. Certainly batsmen learn to graft for their runs and bowlers learn to persist. But if it’s to prepare players for Test cricket and provide entertainment, then they may have to think again. Pitches that lead to big scores don’t necessarily equate to good pitches and there is no incentive here for developing fast bowlers.
Again, there’s no criticism of the groundstaff intended, either. This pitch was under water two months ago. It is remarkable that the teams are playing here at all. But there might be a case for allowing hybrid pitches to be used in such circumstances. Such pitches, with plugs of plastic accounting for around five percent of the surface, promote deeper and stronger grass growth. They are quickly becoming common in limited-overs cricket and might ensure a little more pace and bounce. As a result, they might more closely replicate the conditions found in Test cricket. For while spinners might have been entrusted with lots of overs here, it wasn’t because the pitch was offering them assistance. Rather, it was because it has been harder to score when there has been no pace with which to work. This has been a surface to make fast bowlers wish they had become sewage workers.
Perhaps the extra points awarded for a draw this year are relevant, too. Certainly it feels as if those three extra points (increased from five to eight this season) have reduced sides’ inclination to take any risks. And while the intention behind that was worthy – to encourage teams to fight for draws and incentivise more attritional cricket – you wonder if the outcome is quite what was predicted. Right now, it feels as if the whole of county cricket is being run by Jose Mourinho; defend for days and try and catch the opposition on the break. It might help if these matches were scheduled later in the season when groundstaff have had a chance to inject some pace.
You wonder what Marcus Trescothick, England’s new elite batting coach, made of it as he watched on from the stands. Perhaps he will have concluded that Dan Lawrence, the only realistic contender here for a spot in the England squad ahead of the Test series against New Zealand, has the patience and determination to match his undoubted flair. Suffice to say, it was a shock when Lawrence fell 10 short of a century.
Or perhaps he will conclude that Tom Westley should be on England’s radar again. Certainly there were strokes in this innings that marked Westley out as a player with more options than most – at one stage he turned a good-length ball through fine leg for four from outside off stump, as if it was easy – and with a hunger to add to his elegance. Since the start of 2016, he averages 103.60 against Worcestershire in first-class cricket. He made 213 against them at Chelmsford earlier in the month and now has three centuries in his four most recent matches on this ground; two for Essex and one for England Lions. It was a surprise when he fell, top-edging an attempted slog-sweep off Jake Libby’s first delivery.
“It’s a very placid wicket,” Westley said afterwards. “Pretty dead. Taking 20 wickets will be a monumental effort.
“I felt scratchy when batting. It was infuriating. Slow going. But we are very happy. It’s not often you get 500 on the board.”
Later, as Simon Harmer, Paul Walter and Ryan ten Doeschate accelerated, Brett D’Oliveira was hit for three sixes in an over and the normally excellent Ben Cox missed another chance – his third of the innings, this one a stumping – when ten Doeschate advanced down the wicket. Worcestershire’s bowlers deserved better from both their fielders and their pitches.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
Recent Match Report – Middlesex vs Somerset Group 2 2021
Robbie White falls eight short of maiden first-class ton as game remains in balance
Somerset 178 for 4 trail Middlesex 357 (White 92, Davey 3-33) by 179 runs
James Hildreth became the fourth-highest first-class run-maker in Somerset’s history on the second day of the LV=County Championship match with Middlesex at the Cooper Associates County Ground. The 36-year-old batsman went past Bill Alley’s tally of 16,644 while contributing 39 to his side’s first innings total of 178 for 4 and now lies behind only Harold Gimblett, Marcus Trescothick and Peter Wight.
Earlier, Middlesex had moved from an overnight 308 for 6 to 357 all out, Robbie White falling for 92 and Josh Davey claiming three of the wickets in the space of an over.
There were two victims each for Steve Finn and Tim Murtagh when Somerset replied before an unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 80 between George Bartlett and first-class debutant Lewis Goldsworthy left honours pretty even.
The day began with White, unbeaten on 70, and Luke Hollman adding 24 before Craig Overton uprooted Hollman’s off stump with his score on 16. White had moved to 81 and the total to 338 for 7 off 108 overs when rain interrupted play at 11.50am. The action resumed at 1.20pm with two incident-packed overs.
White took two fours and a three off the first of them, bowled by Tom Abell to put his side within a single of a fourth batting point. But his hopes of a maiden first-class century were dashed when he edged Davey’s first ball of the following over to Hildreth at first slip.
The crestfallen White dragged himself off, having faced 224 deliveries and hit 13 fours. Two balls later Finn fell lbw, having survived an equally confident appeal first up, and Somerset had their third bowling point. With one run still needed for a fourth batting point, Murtagh swung two boundaries to third-man, before being caught there to give Davey a third wicket.
Somerset’s reply had reached 8 without loss when a lighter shower brought a 15-minute interruption. Then both openers fell quickly as Tom Lammonby edged a catch behind off Finn and Tom Banton was pinned lbw by Murtagh.
Hildreth looked in good touch as he and Abell took the score to 86 for 2 at tea, the latter surviving two slip chances in the same Tom Helm over, Max Holden and White the guilty fielders.
Hildreth had overtaken Darren Stevens as the leading run-maker among players still operating in the domestic game when fencing at the first delivery after tea from Murtagh and being caught behind. Abell then chipped a full ball from Finn to midwicket and departed for 41. With the floodlights on, Bartlett, on 13, was dropped by Sam Robson at second slip off Martin Andersson.
Drizzle and light issues brought a further break at 120 for 4. A 6pm resumption of 15 overs saw Bartlett progress serenely to 43 and 20-year-old Cornishman Goldsworthy move stylishly to 34, an innings rich with promise.
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