So I pretty much wasted the entire Saturday morning watching the third day of the Test match between England and Sri Lanka. These Test matches are the classic international form of the game, lasting five days, with each side getting two innings. It is more leisurely than the more recent innovations in which each side bats just once for a limited number of overs (50 for a one-day game and 20 for the three-hour version) and where a decision is guaranteed. (For those who have no idea what cricket is about, please see the primer that I wrote back in 2006.)
As somewhat of a cricket traditionalist, I enjoyed watching this game, with all the players dressed in white, the cricket ball being red, and the game played in daylight at the famous Lord’s cricket ground in London, considered the ancestral home of the game. While watching it, I realized that my pleasure came from seeing the game played well and from the nuances, rather than from thoughts of who was winning and losing. In particular, it was nice to see two of the long-time stalwarts of the Sri Lankan side Mahela Jayewardene and Kumar Sangakkara, now in the twilight of their careers. The former is the more stylish of the two but yesterday he struggled to score 55 showing the grit and tenacity that distinguishes great players on days when their touch is absent. Sangakkara, who has had a difficult time scoring runs in England, had a great day, scoring 147 in grand style,
I had worried that the shorter forms of the game that have become so popular and which encourage the rapid scoring of runs at the expense of style may have corrupted the long-form of the game. But this game did not show it. Both sides batted well and did not play the ugly shots and take the kinds of excessive risks that one finds in the short form. However, the effects of the short form can be seen in that the scoring rate in Test matches is now greater than it used to be when I was a boy, and that is a good thing.
As for the game itself, England batted first and in their first innings scored 575 runs, lasting for about a day and a half. This is an excellent, even overwhelming, score and a side that does this rarely loses unless they fail spectacularly in the second innings. In response, Sri Lanka batted the rest of the second day and all of the third day and had scored 415 runs by the end of the day and still have three more wickets (‘outs’) in hand. A score of 450 seems likely, leaving England with a lead of about 125 runs.
Since the game is time-limited to last just for five days, it seems like there will not be enough time in the remaining two days for England and Sri Lanka to each complete a second innings in less than two days. Thus a no-decision (or ‘draw’ in cricket parlance) is the most likely outcome. But what could happen is that England in their second innings scores runs as quickly as possible and then their captain unilaterally calls the innings to be ended before all their batsmen are out, and asks Sri Lanka to bat again with the hope that they can get the Sri Lankans out in the remaining time. This requires a careful calculation on the England captain’s part, because he needs to give Sri Lanka a realistic run target with enough time remaining to hope that they can win so that they take chances to try and score runs and thus get out, while not making it too easy either.
An even more daring action to get a result would be for the Sri Lankan captain to declare their first innings ended early today, even though they are behind in runs, in order to enable England to have enough time to score runs to make their declaration. We’ll have to see tomorrow if the Sri Lankan captain chooses that route. This kind of strategy is something one only finds in this time-limited form of the game
So basically I repeated the kind of lazy Saturday of my youth, wasting time watching cricket, except I did it on a computer rather than going to the cricket grounds. I am going to try and repeat it today.