Declarations are always a tender talking point. Do it too early and lose, and there will be an outrage. Do it too late and draw, and there will be outrage. Do it at any time and engineer a win, and there will probably still be outrage.
Alastair Cook found himself in the tricky position of needing to decide on a declaration time on Sunday. England stuttered somewhat in their second innings, plunging to 121-6. Although there was plenty of time left in the match, England probably didn't have enough runs on the board to take the possibility of losing out of the equation.
Still, for a long time, England never saw their run rate dip below 3.00 an over. With the dark clouds closing in, the end of play looming and the lead building, everyone started to wonder when the declaration would come.
Those who prefer the more aggressive approach to cricket thought that it would come before the close of play. With the light dimming and the ball swinging, getting Sri Lanka out in the middle seemed like it would be the logical choice.
Getting Sri Lanka out in the middle and trying to take a few wickets before Day 5 would have been the really aggressive approach. But, that wasn't to be. The England contingent remained calmly in the Lord's balcony while Gary Ballance bashed his way to a century.
Ballance had to adapt early on in his innings to help bring some stability to the batting order after the collapse. But when crunch time came, he moved along to his milestone very briskly.
It was a lovely moment. Allowing Ballance to get his century might have been in Cook's mind when he was thinking about the declaration. But once he got there, surely he should call it overnight? Think again.
Of course, it will remain to be seen what Cook does. But if he really goes out to bat for a few more overs on Monday morning, some serious questions have to be asked about his conservatism.
While Sri Lanka bought themselves time with taking all those wickets, this kind of approach is really not fit for a team who is desperate to enter a “new era.” A team who needs to re-engage the public and inspire them with some gutsy displays has simply had its conservatism exposed yet again.
England now have a lead of 389 runs. Only twice have higher scores been chased in the history of Test cricket. The highest total chased at Lord's was 342, and that happened in 1984. While records are there to be broken and Sri Lanka possess two of the finest batsmen in world cricket, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Cook simply does not seem desperate enough to win. It's quite typically English and, as ever, it is terribly disappointing.
England might yet win this Test. Sri Lanka are highly unlikely to try to go for the win. Defensiveness can do funny things to teams and can often force errors. The late declaration might be a sign that Cook trusts his bowlers to take 10 wickets even with limited time. But, even if they win, it will be bittersweet, and it will be remembered for Cook's conservatism rather than something new and inspiring.
All stats via ESPNCricinfo unless otherwise stated.
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