Beyond Ian Bell sealing his ton there seemed little point in the First Test dribbling on like a rotting marriage into Monday afternoon. The children had left home, the silent clinking of cutlery and the anesthetizing hit of gin had long since become the evening routine, but England and Sri Lanka clung on resolutely to the bitter end in what appeared to be a very British facade. >
Anyone watching the drizzly debacle could see the pointlessness of it all and would have welcomed the relief of amicable divorce so lives could be restarted, however painful the decision of all those involved to finally go their separate ways. Yet out of some sort of bizarre spark - perhaps a failed affair with a colleague or a son’s crisis resolved together - the marriage and match was rekindled in the most spectacular fashion possible. Although it now seems abundantly clear who wears the trousers.
Personally, I’m wearing egg on my face having mistakenly bought into the notion that this was a pitch prepared for rands rather than results and also maintained that the tourists had been patronisingly undervalued ahead of the match. Up until the final savage couple of hours, it still seemed that Sri Lanka’s biggest concern ahead of Lord’s was that their first post-Murali attack looked blunter than the pencil used by Bob Willis to pen his popular new book, “Jonathan Trott: a mild critique”.
Now, of course, it’s to be supposed that the psychological crumble so beloved of one of their coach’s compatriots will be the nightmare preoccupying the tourists punch-drunk heads in the short run up to the Second Test. However, they’re not the first team to collapse in such a fashion, as their opponents will recall all too readily from the Jamaican shambles of 2009, and it’s incredibly hard to see that batting line-up, albeit with averages perhaps falsely elevated by the boot-filling surfaces of the subcontinent, repeating their implosion in St. John’s Wood. So I still hold it’s the massive Muttiah-shaped hole in the bowling that remains the greatest quandary for Stuart Law, despite the short term lacerations inflicted by Tremlett and Swann’s bullwhip of decimation.
So if you can suspend your disbelief and accept that the bowling is still their Achilles, it’s worth looking at how other sides have coped with losing their wicket-taking bulwark. Perusing the list of top ten players in terms of wickets taken, it’s rare that any side has been left so completely bereft by their bowling main man calling it quits or having quits called.
Thus although Kapil Dev was still taking wickets at an average far healthier than his waistline right up till his last appearance (15 at 29 in his last eight Tests), his role as prime snaffler had already been subsumed by Kumble who took 41 at 23 in the same period. Kumble’s own retirement was mitigated by Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan’s form when he bowed out and Wasim Akram wasn’t buttering many parsnips in his final dozen games but in the twelve following his retirement Waqar Younis took 34 wickets at 31 - not spectacular but enough of a transitional buffer.
Likewise Pollock’s departure was sterilised by Dale Steyn’s emergence and Curtley Ambrose’s arrivederci was made less painful by the continued presence of Courtney Walsh in the Windies line-up. Warne and McGrath have been followed by a strikeforce inevitably diminished but one which, up until being found out in the previous 18 months by South Africa, India and England, had not performed utterly without merit.
Walsh himself and Hadlee are the two names that Sri Lanka should fear. After exiting Test cricket with match figures of 6-93 in Kingston in a victory over South Africa, Walsh watched as his former team mates lost 9 of their next 16 matches as the Windies slide began in earnest.
Hadlee’s last match, in which he took 8-150 in a losing cause against England, heralded a run of ten matches without a win for the Kiwis. Murali recorded match figures of 8-191 in his final Test (in Galle against India earlier this year) and the irony of Sri Lanka collapsing like so many sides had done facing their own spitting dervish on a breaking fifth day pitch will not be lost on their supporters. I’ve watched Question Time enough to know that every family absolutely must have a father figure, so if Sri Lanka don’t want to echo the ghosts of Walsh and Hadlee, at some stage one of Fernando, Pradeep, Mendis, Herath, Lakmal, Perera or someone else entirely is going to have to pop on the barbecue apron, pretend to rake some leaves out of the drains and make it clear that there’s a new Daddy in town.