England gamble pays off as Kirtley justifies selection

Sri Lanka 277-7 v England
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The Independent Online

James Kirtley would have been as surprised as anyone to find himself leading England's bowling attack in the second Test here yesterday. The Sussex fast bowler was only due to stay in Sri Lanka until James Anderson recovered from a twisted ankle and the fact that he was allowed to bowl at the BBC Radio Five Live reporter Jonny Saunders after practice on Tuesday was not the strongest of hints that he would play. Such frivolity among players certain to be in the final XI is normally frowned upon by the England management.

The news that Kirtley had uprooted Saunders' off stump with his eighth ball must have made its way back to the England captain, Michael Vaughan, at the team hotel because less than 24 hours later he had leapt into England's starting XI ahead of the fit-again Anderson, Matthew Hoggard and Richard Johnson.

This bit of fun with an old school friend obviously had no effect on Kirtley's selection but by the end of another intriguing day's Test cricket the decision to pick him had been fully justified, even if England's selection of two fast bowlers and two spinners was difficult to comprehend.

After reducing Sri Lanka to 277 for 7 England will feel the gamble of selecting Paul Collingwood ahead of a fifth bowler has worked, but it is still too early for this cautious decision to be applauded. Runs continue to be hard to score in this series but the best way of taking pressure off your batsmen is by bowling your opponents out cheaply.

There were several occasions in yesterday's play when Vaughan needed another fast bowler to back up the good work of Kirtley and Andrew Flintoff and it is just as well that Sri Lanka's batsmen are a jittery lot at the moment.

"A lot of discussion took place about the side," Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, said. "But we thought that a main fifth bowler would not be used a lot on a pitch where two spinners will bowl most of the overs. We thought that Colly [Collingwood] and Vaughan could do a job between them if a fifth bowler was needed.

"We went for Kirtley because Johnson has not been feeling well and Anderson has not got enough mileage in his legs yet. Hoggard has struggled on flat wickets when the ball doesn't swing and Kirtley is used to playing on pitches similar to this in Sussex. I am very happy with our position."

Despite this process of elimination it was only through a combination of poor cricket from Sri Lanka, dubious decision-making by the umpire Daryl Harper, and perseverance by the visitors that England's gamble appears to have paid off.

This is a pitch that England should enjoy batting on today and Vaughan had every reason to sit purring on the players' balcony at the close of play. He was off the field with a twisted ankle when Kirtley trapped Chaminda Vaas plumb in front with the second new ball but he expects to bat today.

This was the fourth dismissal Kirtley had been involved in and his most important contributions did not necessarily come while bowling. Sri Lanka's running between the wickets has been appalling throughout this series and yesterday's run-out of Kumar Sangakkara was criminal because the home side were starting to make the most of winning another important toss.

The left-hander, playing at his home ground, had looked in sublime form until Sanath Jayasuriya pushed the ball to Kirtley at mid-off and set off for a quick single. Sangakkara had to wait until the ball passed Flintoff at short extra cover before he could safely leave his crease and this delay did not give him enough time to beat Kirtley's throw to the wicketkeeper, Chris Read.

Jayasuriya can feel unfortunate to have been given out, caught behind off his pad on the stroke of lunch after the ball popped up off the wicketkeeper's gloves, but there was a sense of justice about his dismissal. The left-handed opener had already survived two adjacent lbw appeals from the left-arm spinner, Ashley Giles.

Giles, England's hero in Galle, took 3 for 85 and had another good day even if Tillakaratne Dilshan, playing his first Test since England toured here three winters ago, did get the better of him during his entertaining innings of 63. Thilan Samaraweera was Giles's third victim but it was the dismissal of the talented Mahela Jayawardene, caught by a diving Kirtley at deep square leg, which gave him the greatest satisfaction.

Giles could have had four wickets but for Harper giving Vaas the benefit of the doubt for a bat-pad catch. During the appeal Collingwood ran at the umpire pointing his finger. The fielder apologised and no action was taken but he needs to be careful because behaviour like this can lead to a fine or suspension from the match referee.


Sri Lanka won toss

SRI LANKA - First Innings
M S Atapattu lbw b Kirtley 11
S T Jayasuriya c Read b Giles 32
K C Sangakkara run out (Kirtley-Read) 34
D P M D Jayawardene c Kirtley b Giles 45
T M Dilshan c Trescothick b Flintoff 63
H P Tillakaratne not out 45
T T Samaraweera lbw b Giles 3
W P U J C Vaas lbw b Kirtley 32
H D P K Dharmasena not out 1
Extras (b1, lb8, nb2) 11
Total (for 7, 90 overs, 366 min) 277

Fall: 1-20 (Atapattu), 2-76 (Sangakkara), 3-84 (Jayasuriya), 4-187 (Jayawardene), 5-201 (Dilshan), 6-206 (Samaraweera), 7-270 (Vaas).

To bat: K A D M Fernando, M Muralitharan.

Bowling: Kirtley 20-6-75-2 (nb2) (7-3-17-1 5-2-20-0 3-0-18-0 3-1-14-0 2-0-6-1); Flintoff 18-3-48-1 (6-1-24-0 4-1-11-0 5-0-10-1 3-1-3-0); Giles 27-5-85-3 (10-3-44-1 14-2-30-2 3-0-11-0); Collingwood 7-2-12-0 (3-1-5-0 2-1-3-0 2-0-4-0); Batty 13-3-39-0 (1-0-2-0 6-1-19-0 6-2-18-0); Vaughan 5-0-9-0 (one spell).

Progress: First day: 50: 68 min, 13.3 overs. Lunch 84-3 (Jayawardene 0) 28 overs. 100: 131 min, 30.3 overs. 150: 186 min, 43.1 overs. Tea 197-4 (Dilshan 60, Tillakaratne 6) 58 overs. 200: 248 min, 59.2 overs. 250: 324 min, 78.4 overs. New ball taken after 85 overs at 267-6.

Dilshan 50: 88 min, 70 balls, 8 fours.

ENGLAND: M E Trescothick, M P Vaughan, M A Butcher, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, C M W Read, A F Giles, G J Batty, R J Kirtley.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and D J Harper (Aus).

TV Replay Umpire: P T Manuel.

Match Referee: C H Lloyd (W Indies).