SUCCESS AND failure are never far apart in sport. In John Crawley's case the distance that separated ignominy from a third Test century was about an inch. That was the distance Muttiah Muralitharan overstepped the front crease by when he had Crawley caught for a duck off a no-ball. One hundred and fifty-six runs and a probable tour berth later, he had helped England amass 445 - their highest-ever total against Sri Lanka.
The damage could have been greater had England's ambition not been pruned back by Muralitharan, who took 7 for 155 from 60 overs on a placid pitch. Instead of looking at a hefty follow-on as their sole target, Sri Lanka's batsmen, 79 for 1 at the close, can now look to parity or beyond.
On balance, Crawley's century, despite the initial dose of good fortune, probably rated a notch higher than the one scored by Graeme Hick, who failed to add to his overnight score. Unless both are accommodated, the pair are rivals for one of two vacant batting places left for the Ashes and Crawley's fluency, to the fore once he had passed 50, won him the contest on points.
From the perspective of the selectors, there appears little to choose between the two. Both are having fine seasons for their counties and, like Hick, this was Crawley's sixth century of the summer. Another similitude is that the Sri Lanka attack suited Crawley, a fine player of spin, as much as it did Hick. Good seam bowling in the channel outside off-stump is what Crawley struggles against and Sri Lanka had no one who could deliver it.
What caught the eye, however, apart from a couple of glorious cover drives off Muralitharan, was the way Crawley dominated proceedings once the last man, Angus Fraser, had come to the crease.
For most of the summer, England's tail have provided little more than easy wickets for Allan Donald and Co. With Crawley marshalling them, the last four wickets added 168 runs, 89 of them with Fraser, the highest- ever last-wicket stand conceded by Sri Lanka.
Confronted for the first time this summer by bowling unlikely to singe his ears, Fraser was by no means a sleeping partner. Once Crawley had shown him the correct way to cart spinners for six, he twice lofted Muralitharan over the midwicket boundary.
England needed the contribution too, and after losing Hick in the fourth over of the morning, their momentum slowed virtually to a standstill. Perhaps mindful of the fact that this was a one-off Test and that tour places were at stake, the rest of the morning's cricket was played at a funeral pace. In two hours, only 58 runs were added to the overnight score.
Ben Hollioake, supposedly picked for his big match temperament, looked as meek as a new boy at school which, in his second Test, is essentially what he is. Getting off the mark with a sumptuous boundary past backward point, he spent the next 90 minutes eking out 10 runs. Bogged down, he perished as youth tends to, by trying to hit his way out of trouble.
If Hollioake was slow, Dominic Cork was positively inert. A contrary fellow, Cork has responded to criticism of his previous incarnation as a budding Ian Botham by playing stonewall. Incredibly, in a 50 partnership with Crawley, his contribution was a meagre five runs. Having added another he was promptly scuttled by Muralitharan, a ripping off-break finding an obliging path between bat and pad.
It was Muralitharan who also claimed the last three wickets to fall. Like Old Man River, he just keeps rolling, a veritable bowling machine of rhythm, loop and spin. Without him Sri Lanka's batsmen would have a mountain to climb every Test just to avoid the follow-on.
The lone Tamil in the side, Muralitharan who hails from the pretty hill town of Kandy, is - albeit unwittingly - an important figure for national unity. So far this year he has 59 Test wickets under his belt, which is eight more than Fraser.
Given a chance to extend his own haul after tea, Fraser looked fairly innocuous as Sanath Jayasuriya eased his way to a 58-ball half-century that made a mockery of England's dilatory efforts with the bat earlier in the day.
Jayasuriya is not a one-day wonder and recently he threatened Brian Lara's world record with a triple-century against India. Yesterday his timing, particularly through the covers, was Goweresque in its ease.
Only Cork, whose lbw appeal against Marvan Atapattu was upheld by umpire David Shepherd, was able to trouble him, though only sporadically. Unless the pitch suddenly changes in character, England look set for a long haul in the field.
Henry Blofeld, page 27
THE OVAL SCOREBOARD
Sri Lanka won toss
ENGLAND - First innings
M A Butcher c Jayasuriya
b Wickramasinghe 10
29 min, 26 balls, 1 four
S P James c and b Muralitharan 36
132 min, 111 balls, 3 fours
G A Hick c Kaluwitharana
b Wickramasinghe 107
346 min, 238 balls, 14 fours, 1 five
*+A J Stewart c Tillakaratne b Perera 2
7 min, 9 balls
M R Ramprakash c Jayawardene
b Muralitharan 53
174 min, 149 balls, 4 fours
J P Crawley not out 156
318 min, 249 balls, 19 fours, 1 six
B C Hollioake c Atapattu
b Muralitharan 14
88 min, 53 balls, 1 four
D G Cork b Muralitharan 6
74 min, 48 balls
I D K Salisbury b Muralitharan 2
18 min, 17 balls
D Gough c Kaluwitharana
b Muralitharan 4
14 min, 8 balls, 1 four
A R C Fraser b Muralitharan 32
60 min, 52 balls, 3 fours, 2 sixes
Extras (b1 lb11 w2 nb9) 23
Total (635 min, 158.3 overs) 445
Fall: 1-16 (Butcher), 2-78 (James), 3-81 (Stewart), 4-209 (Ramprakash), 5-230 (Hick), 6-277 (Hollioake), 7-333 (Cork), 8-343 (Salisbury), 9-356 (Gough), 10-445 (Fraser).
Bowling: Wickramasinghe 30-4-81-2 (nb1,w1) (8-1-21-1 5-0-15-0 2-0-11- 0 12-3-21-1 3-0-13-0); Perera 40-10-104-1 (5-2-15-0 6-2-7-0 6-1-10-1 3- 1-13-0 2-0-9-0 5-2-8-0 4-2-8-0 4-0-13-0 5-0-21-0); Dharmasena 18-3-55- 0 (4-1-4-0 1-0-7-0 4-0-26-0 4-2-7-0 1-0-1-0 4-0-10-0); Muralitharan 59.3- 14-155-7 (nb8) (14-2-35-1 6-2-6-0 11-4-17-1 16-3-39-1 12.3-3-58-4); Jayasuriya 11-0-38-0 (5-0-12-0 4-0-18-0 2-0-8-0).
Progress: First day: 50: 91 min, 21.4 overs. Lunch: 74-1 (James 34, Hick 26) 30 overs. 100: 170 min, 43.1 overs. 150: 224 min, 58 overs. Tea: 160- 3 (Hick 67, Ramprakash 39) 63 overs. 200: 297 min, 77.1 overs. (New ball taken after 86.1 overs at 219-4). Close: 228-4 (Hick 107, Crawley 10) 91 overs. Second day: 250: 405 min, 100.5 overs. Lunch: 286-6 (Crawley 51, Cork 0) 119 overs. 300: 501 min, 124.4 overs. 350: 570 min, 141 overs. 400: 608 min, 151.1 overs. Late tea: 435-9 (Crawley 153, Fraser 25) 157 overs. (Innings closed 4.34pm).
Hick: 50: 162 min, 107 balls, 7 fours. 100: 285 min, 198 balls, 13 fours, 1 five. Ramprakash: 50: 132 min, 110 balls, 4 fours. Crawley: 50: 159 min, 124 balls, 8 fours. 100: 251 min, 197 balls, 13 fours. 150: 309 min, 240 balls, 19 fours, 1 six.
SRI LANKA - First Innings
S T Jayasuriya not out 59
91 min, 71 balls, 9 fours
M S Atapattu lbw b Cork 15
56 min, 26 balls, 1 four
D P M Jayawardene not out 4
35 min, 24 balls
Extras (nb1) 1
Total (1 wkt, 91 mins, 20 overs) 79
Fall: 1-53 (Atapattu).
To bat: P A de Silva, *A Ranatunga, H P Tillakaratne, +R S Kaluwitharana, G P Wickramasinghe, H D P K Dharmasena, M Muralitharan, S A Perera.
Bowling: Gough 5-0-18-0; Fraser 3-0-15-0; Hollioake 5-0-30-0; Cork 5- 1-14-1 (nb1); Salisbury 2-1-2-0 (one spell each).
Progress: Second day: 50: 52 min, 11.4 overs.
Jayasuriya: 50: 72 min, 58 balls, 8 fours.
Umpires: E A Nicholls and D R Shepherd
TV Replay Umpire: J W Holder Match Referee: Ahmed Ebrahim
Compiled by Jo KingReuse content