How fortunes turn around in a matter of a couple of years. It was at this very venue in 2014 that James Anderson walked off in tears, unable to play off the last over, putting Moeen Ali’s valiant century in vain. Circa May 2016, the fast bowler is the star of the show, running through the inexperienced Sri Lankan batting with splendid figures of 5 for 16 in the first innings, and 5 for 29 in the second, as Sri Lanka are forced to follow-on. He may not have been chosen as the man of the match, but it was a performance without which England’s victory would not have been possible.
What Anderson did during his splendid effort in the match was prove how raw Sri Lanka’s batsmen are under the conditions. Anderson, for some strange reason, did not have a great record at the ground going into the latest contest. The bad experience the last time two teams met here would possibly have been at the back of his minds too. But, Anderson demonstrated why he is one of the best in the world, by putting the past record behind him, and coming up with a memorable performance. Anderson produced swing and seam, to hint that perhaps his best is not beyond him. Even if it is, it proved enough for Sri Lanka at Leeds.
Sri Lanka should be extremely worried with the manner of capitulation inside three days. Their batting was expected to struggle without doubt, but the kind of effort they put up was completely embarrassing, as Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews candidly admitted at the end of the game. Kusal Mendis’ fighting half-century in the second-innings was the only bright spot in the Sri Lankan batting effort. But that wouldn’t be enough to hide their frailties, which were be way too many. The only positive from the game is that Sri Lanka have got two extra days to reflect on their loss.
The most disappointing aspect of Sri Lanka’s performance in the game was that their experienced hands failed to stand up and deliver. Dimuth Karunaratne has been around for a few years now, but he looked completely at sea against Anderson and so. Even more exasperating for the visitors would be the constant failures of Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne. Amidst the lack of options, the Sri Lankan selectors have been backing the duo for a number of seasons now, but they haven’t managed to make the opportunities count, but for the rare glimpse of glory here and there. The fact that skipper Mathews had a poor game didn’t help matters.
For England, apart from Anderson, Stuart Broad also starred in the first innings with four scalps. But, the biggest takeaway for them from the match would be the effort of Jonny Bairstow, who came up with a splendid century to help England recover from early jolts, and then also claimed nine dismissals behind the stumps. It was the kind of effort that would make it doubly difficult for Jos Buttler to reclaim his place in the Test squad. Alex Hales should also be pleased with his laboured half-century. It wasn’t a perfect effort from the hosts, but against a struggling Lanka, they didn’t need to be at their best.
--By A Cricket Analyst