Monday, Dec 22, 2003
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By Ted Corbett
England 265 & 148
Muttiah Muralitharan, the man of the series, made all the difference. This extraordinary spinner can produce sharp off-breaks on a solid surface and, given a scrap of help, leg breaks like the one that sprinted between Graham Thorpe's bat and pad for him to be stumped. This would have sent a shiver of panic through an England dressing room used to the savage turn coming from Shane Warne.
Murali finished with seven for 103 and 26 victims in the series at 12.30. That is his fourth series of more than 25 wickets. In this part of the world, they call him a genius and it is difficult to argue for all the doubts raised by posturing umpires.
England, 363 behind on first innings, put up a feeble attempt to keep the game alive. It must have known it could do little but lose with dignity and although it was shot out for 148, its lowest total against Sri Lanka, after conceding the biggest total the island men have ever scored against it, it did everything it could.
Its support would have enjoyed a more sustained fight but as Michael Vaughan, its captain, argued at the end "we have fought hard but the better side won and deserved to do so."
We feared the worst from the moment Marcus Trescothick hit across the line at balls around off stump from Chaminda Vaas in the first over. He missed the first, as he stood firm footed on the crease and repeated the shot to the next ball which, to no-one's surprise, rocketed into the hands of gully: England one for nought.
Vaughan, the captain, looked almost regal as he smashed the ball twice through the legside for four but he too was out before lunch when Sanath Jayasuriya snatched a drive at cover. At lunch, when England was 39 for two, the signs of what Northern Englishmen call "an early cut" in other words the chance to go back to a colder climate in time for a full Christmas celebration were all too evident and three overs later Murali had his first wicket when Nasser Hussain nudged the ball to wicket-keeper.
Hussain hesitated before he walked off and with good reason. He will be remembered hereabouts for his outspoken and unnecessarily brutal verbal attack on Murali rather than his batting which is a pity. Particularly as his Test life has not long to run.
The key to the defeat came from the last two balls of the 38th over when Murali had Thorpe stumped. Andrew Flintoff bowled little in the Sri Lankan innings because he has a groin niggle. So Gareth Batty, who has shown a dogged resistance throughout the series, was sent in his place. It was a plan that is never likely to be repeated.
Murali pitched the first ball to Batty higher, who stumbled forward and Sangakkara nipped off the bails. It took a few minutes for the TV umpire to convince himself that no part of Batty's boot was grounded behind the crease and it will always be regarded as a marginal decision but I felt he got it right.
Heaven alone knows how Flintoff survived his first ball against Murali with five fielders and Sangakkara breathing down his arm guard but the next wicket came from Jayasuriya at the nondescript end. Butcher, who had at least shown the application and patience to stay put, got into a terrible twist and was bowled; and on the same score of 84 Chris Read was plumb lbw.
Jayasuriya is the plainest of slow left-arm bowlers, yet he has been an essential part of the Sri Lankan plan as long as Murali has been using a corkscrew where most people have a wrist to turn off-breaks. He is Alf Valentine to Murali's Sonny Ramadhin and if their partnership is less sung about it is just as effective a route to victory.
With England 84 for seven the band and the Barmy Army came to an accommodation as they provided the background to bold strokes from Flintoff and help from Ashley Giles who had already 65 overs behind him. He and Flintoff put on 40 for the eighth wicket, the highest stand of the innings, before he was yorked by Dilhara Fernando.
Earlier, Sri Lanka batted another 50 minutes and scored 65 more to give it 628 for eight declared, second only to its massive world record of 952 for six against India in 1997 and the fifth total of more than 550 at this ground. An old foe raised its ugly head before play began. In one of the Colombo Sunday newspapers there was a front page story which implied that a frontline Sri Lankan batsman had left 11 lakh Sri Lankan rupees about $10,000 American in his hotel room in Kandy, that the police were investigating and that match-fixing might be the reason for so much money being abandoned.
Marvan Atapattu, who has missed most of this game after damaging the webbing on his left hand, came forward to deny the changes. "My God, I have never seen that amount of money," he said, laughing nervously. The right hand opening bat and captain of the Sri Lankan one-day team looked bewildered as anyone might when suddenly confronted with the prospect of an investigation by the CID, the Sri Lankan Board and the ICC Anti Corruption Unit who have a representative at the series.
The hotel management have pointed out that two other guests have used the room since Atapattu checked out but no one has come forward to claim the money which on this island would buy a luxury car, or pay a doctor with private patients for a year. A curious tale, but whether it has any cricket connection remains to be seen.
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