England v Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara stars as England bowlers toil on unhelpful surface
Stylish Sri Lankan veteran reaches his first century at the home of cricket but there was little else to shout about
With an inevitability that enveloped the arena upon his entrance, Kumar Sangakkara scored a Test hundred at Lord's today. He was the 155th batsman to manage the feat, the 88th from overseas, and more pertinently he is no longer on the list of modern batting luminaries – Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis – who did not.
Doubtless Sangakkara would have preferred the milestone to arrive along a road on which he was also guiding Sri Lanka to a thrilling maiden victory at the old ground in its bicentenary year, but he has been around long enough to know that you cannot have everything in life.
Instead, the First Investec Test is meandering to a probable, though not certain, draw on a pitch that since the first hour of play has offered nary a spark of encouragement to bowlers, whether fast, medium, slow, swing, seam, spin, orthodox, unorthodox, tall, short, blond or brunette.
It has been uniformly reluctant in its dispensing of favours. This sort of surface provides the cricket equivalent of flogging a dead horse – from which there might well be more life – and it is not what England required as they seek urgently to regain the affections of a disaffected public.
The tourists were 415 for 7 at the end of the third day, a deficit of 160, with only 17 wickets having fallen in the match so far. England might yet just prise a result from it with the extra pace of their bowlers, and their strategy of intimidating opponents this summer with a battery of short stuff might yet be effective. Towards the end of the evening it was finally wearing down Sri Lanka's resolve.
But still the bowlers will have to find something extra, the pitch will have to offer something extra, England will have to decide when to declare. In which case, as is the way with these matters, the business strip will be adjudged a perfect example of what should occur over five days.
It certainly helped that England did not hang about in their first innings. Rarely inconvenienced by their opponents' gentle attack – the imagery this time suggested mauling by a dead sheep – they rattled along at 4.4 runs an over, which has been well beyond them recently. For this they had not only to thank Joe Root's maiden Test double hundred but a purposeful tail. It gave them time at the end of the game.
Sangakkara was out a little more than an hour from the close for 147. It was some first Test wicket for Moeen Ali, whose wide, shortish ball the batsman attempted to cut, only to be forced to reach for it as it gripped on the surface.
However, if Sangakkara was beaten from time to time, he was never in peril until the final act. The elusive hundred at which he had made six previous attempts came without the remotest fuss or distraction. He accumulated certainly and attractively from the moment he arrived at the crease on Friday evening for a period of play which he used for reconnaissance.
Since his previous highest Test score at Lord's was 65 there might have been some apprehension as the hundred approached. There was nothing of the sort. He spent only 14 balls in the 90s and was on 99 when he drove a full-length ball outside off stump from Joe Root in the air through the covers for four.
What it meant to him, what the achievement means to all players, was immediately apparent. Sangakkara, batting at the Pavilion End, turned to face the members and his dressing room, clearly elated. His batting partner, Mahela Jayawardene, with whom he has played 121 Test matches and shared Test aggregate partnerships of more than 6,000 runs, raced down the pitch and jumped on his back. Jayawardene already had two Test hundreds at Lord's; he knew what this was all about and he was delighted for his old friend.
It was an astutely sculpted innings, his 36th Test hundred in all, but it did not enrapture the spectators as it might have done. There was a will for Sangakkara to succeed, if not quite up there with the crowd desire fuelling Tendulkar's last Test innings here in 2011, but there was little cut and thrust. Lord's was full, but the way the match has unfolded may do little to fill the unsold seats at Headingley for the Second Test starting on Friday.
Sri Lanka began the day with survival in mind, and Sangakkara realised that a century for him would mean more than a place in posterity. England struck once before lunch when Jimmy Anderson removed the diminutive opener Kaushal Silva with a smart piece of bowling, the batsmen attempting to leave another short ball.
Two more wickets fell in the afternoon. Jayawardene, not quite at his most serene in making 55, asked for a review of an lbw verdict given in the second over with the second new ball. It was not a wise move. Then Lahirun Thirimmane flicked to mid-wicket.
Three more went in the evening, including Sangakkara, and Liam Plunkett took his first Test wicket for seven years. Six overs were not bowled because of a slow rate, which makes an improbable task more needlessly difficult.
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