Cow Corner

England discover that patience is fruitful

Cow Corner

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England's batsmen have come in for a lot of criticism this winter, and rightly so, but Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook demonstrated the value of a patient, pragmatic approach in Colombo.

The ultra-defensive, negative batting in the UAE was followed by an overly ambitious and, ultimately careless, set of performances in Galle as the batsmen's struggles in subcontinent conditions continued.

But Strauss and Cook showed a remarkable transformation in their mindsets as the pair played in a courageous, yet considered, fashion to give the tourists a strong platform from which to build as they target a series-levelling victory.

The much maligned sweep (s***p) shot was effectively outlawed as the pair first played the shot - which has led to numerous failings this winter - to end the 39th over of the innings. It was a stroke that was almost resisted entirely.

Indeed, such was the discipline shown by the openers that the only half-chance presented to the agitated Sri Lanka fielders was an extremely tough fingertip effort from Lahiru Thirimanne at short leg after Cook drilled the ball in his direction.

This innings acted as some form of redemption for Strauss, whose place has been put under intense scrutiny since his drought with the bat continued at Galle.

The debate as to whether the England captain's persistent struggles with the bat undermine his position was a valid one - as any dispassionate analysis of his form confirms - but this was a gutsy and crucial knock for his side in the context of the match.

A standing ovation from the travelling supporters when he reached what was surely one of his most painstaking Test half-centuries was ultimately telling: Strauss remains a hugely popular and valued leader.

The England openers' stand of 122 in 52 overs was England's second highest of a collectively dismal winter with the bat in which they have reached 300 just once.

As it stands, the tourists will begin to believe that they can assume control of the match with a commanding first-innings lead after Sri Lanka could only muster a paltry 275 batting first on a relatively flat track - albeit, with cracks developing.

For the thousands of England supporters who have stayed on in Colombo for the second Test, day two made for grim viewing; however, this was a pair of batsmen, performing with distinction, the dutiful roles demanded of them on a slow, low wicket.

Given that this was England's first half-century opening partnership of the winter, the stinging criticism of the pair's recent efforts is perhaps justified; but this is where a touch of perspective is needed.

Strauss and Cook are already one of the most productive opening partnerships in England Test history - the pair's 14 century stands now put them only one behind Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe. A tad more respect is perhaps warranted.

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As far as England's first-innings is concerned, the work is far from complete: any supporter who has followed the travails of the tourists over the winter will testify to the potential of a collapse at any point.

But this was a partnership the like of which has not been seen so far this winter - ironically, it has taken until the spring for one to materialise - with both batsmen completely committed to ensuring that a solid platform was laid.

England hold the ascendancy thanks to Strauss and Cook's disciplined graft, and now it is up to Trott - and the middle order to follow - to back up the pair's efforts with similar determination and application.

Strauss and Cook have demonstrated the value of a patient approach, eliminating dangerous and unnecessarily risky or ill-judged shots, to put their side in a strong position.

The test will now be of the England middle order to see if they can replicate the patient and responsible approach of the openers. In tricky conditions, it has proved to be very fruitful indeed.

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STAT OF THE DAY: Swann drew level with, then passed, the great Tony Lock's 174 Test wickets as he dismissed Randiv, Mathews and Herath. Of his wickets, Swann has taken 89 left-handers, while Lock took 35; Swann has taken 52 lbws, while Lock took 21.

TWEET OF THE DAY: This winter, on pitches that weren't supposed to suit them, England have dismissed Pak/SL for 338, 257, 214, 99, 365, 318, 214 and 275 (@the_topspin)

USER COMMENT OF THE DAY: The thing is, you wouldn't get out LBW if you missed a sweep shot half way down the track back when Michael Vaughan was doing it. It used to be "the shot" to score against the spinners with. Now, if it goes wrong, you are out. (LD)

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