Mark Butcher's fifth Test match hundred and some typically robust strokeplay from Alec Stewart brought the only rays of sunshine to an otherwise miserable and frustrating day of cricket here yesterday.
For England, the rain and wet outfield that delayed the start of play until 2.00pm, and made further unwelcome appearances, would have been warmly greeted. If asked, they would openly admit their first priority is to win this series. Only when this has been achieved would they worry about providing spectators with something to persuade them to come back again.
While that attitude is understandable – a draw here would end the run of failing to win their last four series – the apathy shown by the Sri Lankans is difficult to comprehend. Bad weather has followed the tourists around the country and the showers that limited play to 28 overs yesterday seemed to sap them of their last drop of enthusiasm.
Nowhere was this more noticeable than in their preparations for the first session of play. Yesterday they resembled a side about to play a game of club cricket, not that of a Test team desperate to level a series.
For Butcher, such lethargy from an opponent makes batting a pushover. The Surrey left-hander continued to look as though he could play the bowlers with a tooth-pick.
The first session of play, which lasted an hour, allowed England to add a further 66 runs. The 13 overs also enabled Butcher to score his second hundred of the series. The boundary that took him to three figures, a leg-glance, was the 14th and after reaching this landmark he appeared to try and enjoy himself through playing a few more shots.
This more carefree attitude was cut short when, after another rain delay, he was adjudged leg-before to Chaminda Vaas. Television replays showed umpire Dave Orchard got this one wrong, as the ball would have gone over the stumps.
Stewart, whose place is under pressure, chose this uninspired attack as the time to remind the selectors of his capabilities. Punishing anything loose, of which there was plenty, it took him 61 balls to post his 39th Test half-century.
Stewart could hardly be blamed for Andy Flintoff's mishap. He stroked a straight-drive back towards the bowler only to see Vaas's fingertip deflect the ball on to the stumps with Flintoff well out of his ground.
Stewart and Alex Tudor made sure there were no further alarms as they added another 38. Then, with a storm looming, the pair accepted the umpires offer to leave the field for bad light at 5.34pm with 23 overs still left to be bowled. The rain soon came and left the ground looking like a lake.
While the lack of play will have done no harm to England's chances of winning this series, it had not been a good day for cricket. Too much time was spent off the field when the ground and light seemed fit for play. Instances like this will fail to encourage spectators and interest in the game, World Cup or not.
Old Trafford Scoreboard
Second day; England won toss
ENGLAND First innings
(Overnight: 273 for 4)
M A Butcher lbw b Vaas 123
313 min, 226 balls, 18 fours
ÝA J Stewart not out 57
130 min, 79 balls, 9 fours
A Flintoff run out 1
13 min, 8 balls
A J Tudor not out 6
32 min, 31 balls, 1 four
Extras (b5, lb8, nb12) 25
Total (for 6, 435 min, 100 overs) 377
Fall (cont): 5-354 (Butcher), 6-361 (Flintoff).
To bat: A F Giles, A R Caddick, M J Hoggard.
Bowling: Vaas 28-7-73-1 (nb2) (3-1-5-0, 4-0-23-0, 6-2-15-0, 4-1-7-0, 11-3-23-1); Upashantha 8-0-65-1 (nb10) (4-0-24-0, 1-0-12-0, 2-0-14-1, 1-0-15-0); Fernando 23-2-118-2 (6-1-21-1, 5-0-32-0, 7-1-34-1, 3-0-14-0, 2-0-17-0); Muralitharan 39-12-103-1 (3-0-22-0, 4-2-6-0, 21-7-46-1, 4-0-15-0, 7-3-14-0); De Silva 2-0-5-0 (one spell).
Progress: Second day: Rain delayed start until 2.00pm. 300: 346 min, 78.3 overs. New ball: taken after 80 overs at 310-4. RSP: 3.01-4.38pm 339-4 (Butcher 119, Stewart 33) 85.2 overs. 350: 383 min, 85.5 overs. BLSP: 5.34pm.
Butcher 50: 133 min, 101 balls, 8 fours. 100: 271 min, 189 balls, 14 fours.
Stewart 50: 108 min, 61 balls, 8 fours.
SRI LANKA: M S Atapattu, R P Arnold, ÝK Sangakkara, D P M D Jayawardene, P A de Silva, *S T Jayasuriya, H P Tillakaratne, W P U C J Vaas, K E A Upashantha, C R D Fernando, M Muralitharan.
Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and D L Orchard (SA).
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