There is something imperceptibly harsh about the north. The winds seem sharper; the air colder; the sky greyer. It doesn’t really matter if any of those things are true, what matters is what it feels like. And indeed, today at Headingley there was something distantly different about the whole mood of the occasion compared to the batting eden of Lord’s last week.
It was a difference upon which bowlers thrive. And England, after winning the toss and electing to field, exposed the Sri Lankan visitors in unfamiliar conditions to bowl them out for 257 to take a strong early hold on the second Test match.
While Liam Plunkett will rightfully take the plaudits for his five wickets, England bowled as a unit and pulled together the kind of day that coach Peter Moores should look to set his pace bowlers as a barometer for home matches.
Without a clear front-line spinner emerging with the English season well into June, this day—a day in which all four of England’s seamers bowled with zip and venom—should send a clear message as to the tactical direction this England team need to take their bowling.
A message that should be borne with consideration for the impact it could have on the batsmen too.
The bowling attack on show today was admittedly rather similar, with James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Jordan and Plunkett all bowlers of roughly similar pace, and, Broad aside, height also. However, such homogeneity was not to prove a problem on a pitch which offered assistance to the pace bowlers throughout the day.
Anderson started with a sprightly spell, getting swing in the air and zip off the pitch. His accuracy and persistence was rewarded when Kaushal Silva got the thinnest of edges through to Matt Prior.
It was the introduction of Plunkett, however, that really turned the feeling of the day with the Yorkshire seamer removing Dimuth Karunaratne with his second ball of the day before really troubling the world-class duo of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara in the lead-up to lunch.
After the interval Plunkett returned again, this time with Broad from the other end. It was in this phase that the dominance of bat over ball on this day was realised. Sangakkara was offered a handful of reprieves either side of Jayawardene falling to an excellent catch by Jordan in the slips.
Broad and Plunkett continued to probe but Sangakkara—looking out of form despite his six consecutive fifties—rode the storm well and fought through.
Anderson returned to take the wicket of Angelo Matthews just before the 50th over, but Sangakkara, then joined by the talented Dinesh Chandimal, fought on. The pair put on a strong partnership of 67 for the sixth wicket, battling off some probing England bowling in which a couple more chances were let slip.
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England’s persistence was rewarded eventually, however, when Sangakkara fell to a blinding catch from Ian Bell in the gully off the bowling of Broad.
That wicket spelled the beginning of the end for the tourists who capitulated to lose their final five wickets for just 29 runs. Plunkett grabbed a five-wicket haul with the final dismissal of the innings, and in amongst the mayhem Broad quite inconspicuously managed to take a hat-trick, with neither the England team nor the TV commentators aware of the fact he had done so.
Having elected to bowl first, Alastair Cook will have been more than pleased with bowling Sri Lanka out for 257, but it could in fact have been even better with a number of chances being put down and a couple not quite going to hand.
England, broadly speaking, were superb. Prior’s straightforward drop catch was alarming but fortunately for him it will be forgotten in the shade of an excellent bowling performance.
Having closed, a little fortunately, without losing a wicket, England will hope to add to a textbook first day with a textbook second day of piling on the runs as the pitch flattens out.