Throughout a long winter, Alastair Cook batted and batted, and then batted some more. During the Ashes series he occupied the crease for a record 35 hours and 50 minutes. The batting tachograph must have collapsed under the strain.
To that can be added the six hours and 11 minutes for which he tortured Sri Lanka's toothless attack in the First Test yesterday in making his 17th, so far unbeaten, Test hundred. Better examples of taking up where you left off will be hard to find.
Cook reached his fifth hundred in his last 10 Test innings, embracing the 110 in the Third Test against Pakistan at The Oval last summer – which, astonishing as it seems now, probably saved his Test career – and the innings of 235 not out, 148 and 189 against Australia.
It was almost inevitable that he should be accompanied throughout most of a curtailed third day in Cardiff by Jonathan Trott, who also continued a breathtaking run of form. Since his century on his Test debut in 2009, Trott has emerged as one of the great run compilers in the history of the game.
His average, which stood at 61.54 going into this match, is greater than any player who has played more than 10 Tests for England, and since that includes Herbert Sutcliffe (60.73), this is some company to keep. He now has six hundreds from his 31 Test innings. Cook and Trott shared a double-century partnership for the third wicket as England ground down the Sri Lankans.
It was hardly in the realms of the unbroken 329 they shared in Brisbane last winter, nor as significant as the 173 they managed in Adelaide, but it was symbolic of players at the height of their game. Their batting yesterday was altogether authoritative and typically unflappable but it was hardly a thing of joy.
This is partly to do with the natures of both batsmen, always acquisitive rather than spectacular, but it had as much to do with the pitch. The surface betrayed no signs of life; it was slow and unhelpful, encouraging neither strokeplay nor pace nor movement. Sri Lanka's bowlers needed all the help they could get. As the day wore on, the problem seemed to be not how they might take the 20 wickets needed to win a Test match, but how they might take 10 to bowl their opposition out in a single innings.
The point will doubtless be laboured repeatedly as the series wears on but, boy, how they miss Muttiah Muralitharan. On any surface anywhere, not least in England, Muralitharan gave his team a chance. Without him they are bereft.
The seamers, especially on a strip such as this, both blameless and culpable at once, were anodyne. They had insufficient pace to compensate for other shortcomings. The two spinners were similarly neutered and it was difficult to imagine that Ajantha Mendis, who burst on to the international scene three years ago, was once the subject of a questionnaire on the International Cricket Council asking if he was the best spinner in history.
At least Mendis took a wicket, almost as soon as play started three hours late. He ended the stay of nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson, whose brief stay bordered on the grotesque. It was a merciful release when he edged his 16th ball, from Mendis, to Mahela Jayawardene at first slip.
There was to be almost no joy for the tourists after that. Cook and Trott spent most of the day in circumspection, never rushing, never in any trouble. There were fleeting moments when wickets might have fallen.
On 53, Trott got an inside edge to Suranga Lakmal which dribbled past his leg stump; on 59 he called for a single after hitting to mid-on and would have been a yard short had the throw at the stumps hit at the bowler's end. When Cook was on 87 he swept hard at Rangana Herath and although it came off the face of the bat, Tharanga Paranavitana at short leg anticipated well, dived to his left and just failed to hold a stinging chance.
Therafter the pair moved serenely to their centuries. Cook reached his with his eighth four, a square cut, and Trott did likewise, a crisp cover drive, perhaps the shot of the day. Whether all this may be enough to force a result in the match is doubtful.
England will have to build up a substantial lead and do so quickly today. If the pitch will not help in that regard they have enough attacking options in the rest of their batting line-up partially to overcome that. But there remains the problem of bowling out Sri Lanka a second time.
Sri Lanka's batsmen are rather more classy than their bowlers at present and England's cause has been severely harmed by the loss of Jimmy Anderson with a grade one side strain. There are apparently three grades of side strain, with grade three being the most severe, but Anderson will not be able to bowl in Sri Lanka's second innings.
Thus England will have to do what they can with three bowlers, which has the knock-on effect, of course, of potentially tiring them out with the Second Test starting at Lord's next Friday. This is the risk you take with a four-man attack but it served England well in the winter and it should be remembered that in Adelaide when Stuart Broad pulled up in Australia's second innings, Graeme Swann found enough firepower to take England home. If the pitch deteriorates, he may do the same again. The prodigious Cook and Trott deserve no less.
Sri Lanka won toss
Sri Lanka – First innings 400 (H A P W Jayawardene 112, N T Paranavitana 66, T T Samaraweera 58, T M Dilshan 50)
England – First innings (overnight 47-1)
A N Cook not out 129 263/10/0
J M Anderson c D P M D Jayawardene b Mendis 1/16/0/0
I J L Trott not out 125/219/11/0
Extras (b5 lb2 nb5) 12
Total (for 2, 90 overs) 287
Fall (cont): 2-47.
To bat K P Pietersen, I R Bell, E J G Morgan, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, C T Tremlett
Bowling R A S Lakmal 19-4-54-1, N L T C Perera 14-1-53-0, T M Dilshan 9-1-27-0, M F Maharoof 15-1-56-0, B A W Mendis 18-4-43-1, H M R K B Herath 15-1-47-0.
Umpires Aleem Dar (Pak) and B R Doctrove (WI).
TV Umpire R J Tucker (Aus).
Match referee J Srinath (Ind).Reuse content