Tourists master art of bowling badly with diploma in dropped catches

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The Independent Online

Suddenly, England were tired. Perhaps from far away they could hear the strains of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" calling them home. Perhaps three Tests in 21 days was proving too much. Perhaps they could bear no longer the sight of Mahela Jayawardene grinding them slowly, inexorably into the dust.

They still shouted and cajoled, they still employed that annoying little trick of propelling the ball at pace back to the wicketkeeper from all manner of close fielding positions. But on this day, the second of the third Test against Sri Lanka, it was all show, and you did not need a masters degree in body language to tell.

The tourists were about done for from the moment in the morning when Alastair Cook flung himself to his left at gully and shelled a chance from Tillekeratne Dilshan. Not long after, Matthew Prior pulled his glove away from an edge offered by Jayawardene as if he had come across something nasty in the woodshed. The day finished Cook 2, Prior 2 in terms of drops.

All this and Jayawardene accumulating his second large century of the series. He faced 422 balls for his 195 in Colombo and had confronted, less assuredly but with the same levels of patience and forbearance, 351 more by the close.

If England were weary, Jayawardene still had the gusto to compound their state by assessing their contribution to the match.

"I felt at times England were a bit negative with over-rate," said Jayawardene. "When a side is negative it's probably quite easy to push for a win now. At times they came hard at us but they gave up pretty easily. I was surprised.

"I felt they didn't bowl that straight, they bowled pretty wide so I managed to be patient. If you bowl straight on this wicket with the movement you probably will create more opportunities. That's something I don't think England did well. Hopefully, our guys will be better than that."

Ouch, ouch and ouch again. These were calculated, gentle but incisive barbs. Jayawardene had shown that England were not quite good enough and now he was telling them as well. Just to be sure they knew.

Nor could England take much succour from their coach, Peter Moores. He was candid though not damning. "The pitch has done enough for us to have bowled them out," he said. "We just haven't bowled well enough. We have seen the ball seam and swing. We have created some chances but we have no complaints. Jayawardene has played very well."

It was decent but appropriate of Moores to praise Jayawardene, whose concentration levels in this series have been those of a driven man. He is determined to lead from the front.

But Moores also knows England had one important chance when Sri Lanka's captain was on 66. England's close catching is a concern. They are dropping more than they take, including almost all the difficult ones. The tourists leave for the airport immediately after the match on Saturday, but given present difficulties they will probably struggle to catch the plane.