Tourists transform art of strokeplay into cultured butchery

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The Independent Online

It surely can't get much better than this, even in Heaven. In all its long history the month of May cannot have produced a better or more balmy day. To match the weather, Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene produced an exquisite exhibition of strokeplay that combined the classical, the wristy and the oriental on an afternoon that belonged to the angels.

There is nothing better than watching instinctive strokemakers at their best. They take the art to an infinitely higher level than those man-made batsmen who so often seem to hug the centre of the stage and give spectators another, less enviable glimpse of eternity.

A flatish, slow pitch played into the hands of a batting side whose first-innings totals in their last nine Test matches, all of which they have won, average a small matter of 523. The England bowlers will have feared that they might have been in for some unpalatable treatment, but they will hardly have anticipated such cultured butchery.

The first stroke that made all of us sit up came late in the morning when Atapattu played what appeared to be nothing more than a forward defensive to a delivery of full length from Dominic Cork. The ball sped away past the stumps to the boundary, the product of the most perfect timing.

After lunch, Cork bowled to Jayawardene. The ball was up to the bat and on or just outside the leg stump. Jayawardene opened himself up for the on-drive and leant into the ball with a nonchalant ease. Although it hardly appeared to be hit, it raced away to the mid-on boundary and again it was the superb timing that did the trick.

Quite early in his innings Jayawardene hurt his right leg and was obviously in some pain. During the afternoon he was forced to call for a runner and even if it slowed him down a little, it did not in anyway affect his style of batting. He was as sublime on one leg as he had been on two.

When Andrew Flintoff, the best of the bowlers, pitched short he swivelled and, rolling his wrists over the ball, hooked him along the ground to the square-leg boundary, risking the stroke even though there were two men back waiting for the top-edged hook. Later in the over when Flintoff pitched short again, with twinkling wrists he square-cut him for four more. And on it went.

Not to be outdone, Atapattu came half-forward and flicked Flintoff to the backward square-leg boundary using his bat as a conjuror would his wand. Every spectator will have his own special memories of this wonderful batting display, but these five strokes captured the flavour of this extraordinary display as well as any.

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