Two years ago, relief was the overriding emotion for England as they saved the first Ashes Test of the summer by the skin of their teeth. Yesterday, as early evening sunshine lit up Cardiff, Andrew Strauss and his team-mates hugged each other with joy after securing a truly sensational victory over Sri Lanka.
The biggest difference, apart from the result of course, between 2009 and 2011, was the size of the crowd. While thousands of spectators watched from the edge of their seats as Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar somehow kept Australia at bay, there were only a few hundred present this time. But what a story they will have to tell in years to come.
Everyone – even Strauss, he pretty much admitted last night – expected the summer's opening npower Test to fizzle out after bad weather had played havoc with the match. And yesterday's action did not begin until 3pm following a soggy morning.
In the end, though, there was more than enough time for the home attack to rout Sri Lanka for 82 and win by an innings and 14 runs.
"I think it will go down as one of the most extraordinary cricket matches that any of us have played in," said England's captain. "But in the morning I was saying it was one of the drabbest – and then suddenly it changes. We wanted as a team to press for victory but we thought it would be a long shot. We knew, though, that Sri Lanka had an awkward amount of time to bat – 50-odd overs – and we thought if we made early inroads we could apply some pressure on the batsmen coming in.
"There was some outstanding bowling from Chris Tremlett and also Stuart Broad, and then later Graeme Swann. When wickets keep falling it becomes harder and harder for the new man coming in."
In the end England had 26 overs to spare, having dismissed Sri Lanka in fewer than 25 overs with Tremlett and Swann sharing eight wickets before Broad cleaned up the last two.
"We have been on the receiving end of this sort of thing in the past," said Strauss. I suppose Adelaide in 2006 [when England were bowled out of the last afternoon by Shane Warne] was similar. But all credit to the way our guys came out and played with real intensity.
"We could easily have just cruised through, but we didn't do that and we were able to apply more and more pressure. I thought we showed a lot of ruthlessness in Australia and this was another good example of that."
Sri Lanka's batsmen started to resemble rabbits in headlights as England spotted the opposition's uncertainty and moved in for the kill.
Earlier in the match, though, the pitch had seemed too slow to help any bowler and Sri Lanka looked perfectly comfortable in making 400. England went past that total but the fact that they batted on for a couple of overs yesterday – to enable Ian Bell to complete his 13th Test century – indicated Strauss thought any chance of a victory was minimal.
"Bell certainly deserved his hundred and it enabled us to go on the field with a real buzz so I think it was the right decision," the captain said.
With so few spectators in the ground, creating an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement clearly rested with the players themselves.
"You cannot blame people for staying away with the way the weather was," said Strauss. "But these things are great tests for you. 'How desperately do you want to win?' I think we showed we really wanted it – and we got what we deserved. We've got a bonus win and we will be very buoyant heading to Lord's."
Not quite everything in England's garden is rosy, with Jimmy Anderson certain to miss Friday's second Test because of a side strain.
"That is bitterly disappointing for him, and for us," said Strauss. "We will have to look at our options for Lord's but so far as this result is concerned it is a perfect start to the summer." Perfect for England – and a nightmare for Sri Lanka. They are not the first team to have been blown away in a couple of hours but it is hard to see them coming back from this drubbing.
Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's two best batsmen, were late joining the tour because they preferred to stay as long as they could with their IPL teams in India.
The pair looked undercooked, too, contributing only a total of 44 runs between them in the Test.
"I thought we could bat out the time," said crestfallen captain Tillakaratne Dilshan. "It is very disappointing. We just didn't bat well enough. Sangakkara and Jayawardene are two great players and they can come good next match but it is up to all of us to be strong at Lord's."Reuse content