Harsha Bhogle

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England Cook up a storm for visiting Lankans

While watching Novak Djokovic dismantle the fittest tennis player on the planet at Wimbledon, I switched briefly to the cricket and my luck, or my timing, couldn't have been better. For at that moment, Mahela Jayawardena played one of the most exquisite cover drives you will see, in the third ODI against England. It was unhurried, in itself a sign of confidence. It was, therefore, stately and I thought I heard it say, "When was the last time you saw this on a tennis court?" He went on to make 79 in that match, which followed his career-best score of 144 in the second ODI - a performance that helped him take the Man-of-the-Match award as well as the top batsman's spot on the Castrol Index.

 

 

Eventually, though, the compelling occasion of a Wimbledon final prevailed, but Jayawardena showed why Sri Lanka, so graceful on the field and so haphazard in its administration off it, must protect him and hope he plays for them as long as Muttiah Muralidaran did. He's a simple, quiet man who plays simple, quiet shots.

 

 

England have a new captain in charge and his appointment was a gamble that the ECB was willing to take. While Alastair Cook has rarely been regarded as a very good one-day player, you could understand the logic behind it. Even over just 50 overs a solid opening pair is critical and with Andrew Strauss having retired from limited-overs cricket, they needed someone to bat through the overs and Cook is in the form of his life, so it would seem things added up rather well.

 

 

But Cook hasn't been through the learning curve yet. He probably will but has had to face a barrage of critical comment on the pace of his run-scoring. To his credit, he has done very well in the ODIs, scoring a century and an unbeaten 95 (which was at better than a run-a-ball), and he is now the leading run-scorer of the series, with 267 runs. His strike rate is in the high 90s and it is no wonder that he is leading the other batsmen by Batting Momentum on the Castrol Index.

 

 

Is this a new side to him? I can't say, but given that his career ODI strike rate is only 75 and with Jonathan Trott at number three, the innings isn't going to go from 0 to 100 in 10 seconds! Ideally England would like Ian Bell to open and have Kevin Pietersen at number three, but their batting order is a bit muddled at the moment, which isn't the case in their Test side, where they have got the balance just right. Not surprisingly they are a far better Test team than they are over 50 overs.

 

 

They looked a notch above the Lankans during the Tests for they well. Against tougher batting sides they might need a fifth bowler somewhere but with Graeme Swann in form and capable of bowling long spells they can get by with four most days. Not so the lankans who, without Lasith Malinga and Murali, and with Angelo Mathews still unable to bowl, can do with as many bowlers as they can put on the park. And so you got the feeling that Sri Lanka were always a batsman short. It's not always that you say this about a side but Sri Lanka are a far better one-day bowling unit than they are in Test cricket, while it is the other way around with England.

 

 

It wasn't the most compelling series but the early part of the English summer rarely does that. There is one final ODI to decide the series and that should be good fun, but when India, with its box office might, come to play in the better part of the English summer there should be an even better spectacle on offer.

 

 

Harsha Bhogle, is writing in his role as a Castrol Index spokesperson.

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