Fifty-four overs and no result was the gloomy outcome of another Bristol one‑day international.
In 2014 against India not a ball was bowled when the circus arrived here. on Sunday England had restricted Sri Lanka to 248 for nine and they fancied knocking off those runs despite the first-ball dismissal of Alex Hales. After four overs England’s reply was halted by dismal drizzle. All the cheerful, hard graft of Will Brown, Gloucestershire’s young chief executive, and his staff deserved better.
England impressed in the field again and as a result the Sri Lankan innings spluttered along on an old-fashioned Bristol surface where the ball seemed to stick for a millisecond after bouncing. There was not much carefree, effortless strokeplay once Eoin Morgan had opted to bowl first. Afterwards Dinesh Chandimal, who hit 62, acknowledged that his team were “20 or 30 short”.
Before the start England’s captain decided to replace Moeen Ali with Chris Jordan, citing the short boundaries as one reason for the change – in this era players are seldom dropped for purely cricketing reasons. In fact the boundaries here, though much smaller after the intrusion of temporary stands, are as big as those at Edgbaston and in Sri Lanka’s innings there were only three sixes.
As ever the tourists were dependent on their two senior batsmen for runs. Both Chandimal and Angelo Mathews notched half-centuries after a promising innings of 53 from Kusal Mendis. But neither could bat with the freedom of old. Mathews in particular has been shackled in this series, partly due to a dodgy hamstring but also because of a sense of responsibility. He has felt obliged to ensure that Sri Lanka reach a respectable score which might just be competitive, rather than go helter-skelter for a match-winning one. It is a shame to see such a wonderful striker of a cricket ball neutered in this way.
England’s out-cricket was always competent and occasionally dazzling. In the field there are no obvious weak links and it is striking how mobile their pace bowlers are in the field. All four of them bowled impressively as well. For the first time in the series Adil Rashid was the most profligate of the attack. The pitch offered him a little turn but it was very slow, so the batsmen could watch and wait.
For the second match in succession Morgan used only five bowlers. Apparently this has not happened when England have been in the field in an ODI for 11 years (Test Match Special’s latest scorer is responsible for this gem). Of these bowlers Liam Plunkett and Chris Woakes were rewarded with the best figures – with some justification.
Plunkett has not shone brightly for Yorkshire but there has been a spring in his step this summer when pulling on an England shirt, something he did first long before any other member of the side – in December 2005. When he dismissed Kusal Perera he registered his 50th wicket in ODI cricket, a landmark on an uneventful day.
“It’s only taken me 11 years to get there,” Plunkett said, doing his best Eeyore impersonation. In fact Plunkett is in a positive mood. He had a frustrating winter, often on the sidelines whether it was during the Test series in South Africa or the majority of the ODIs. But he came to the fore in the World T20 in March, which reflects well on his doggedness. “You have to keep grafting,” Plunkett said, “and when the chance comes along you have to take it.” He even admitted that being on the periphery carrying drinks to his colleagues “is not the worst place to be”.
He has learnt not to think too far ahead or fret about his Test ambitions (he still has them) and there is a neat simplicity about his current approach to bowling with a white ball. “I’m running up and hitting the pitch hard,” he said. If this is going well he sticks to that method before turning to the slower balls he was encouraged to develop in all those long sessions in the nets last winter.
Meanwhile Woakes cruised in rhythmically and was rewarded with two late wickets. Thus he finished with three for 34 from his 10 overs. He has never been so economical for England when completing his full quota of overs. Nor has he ever looked more comfortable in an England shirt whatever the hue.
On the horizon is another Test series, in which Woakes can contemplate continued participation. Ben Stokes should be fit enough to return for the first match against Pakistan but the stress fracture to Jimmy Anderson’s shoulder blade may mean the selectors will be spared a ticklish decision. If Anderson is not fit, then Woakes would automatically join Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Stokes. But if Anderson recovers, there is a good chance Woakes could be preferred to Finn, so impressive has he been recently.
Finn at his best is more potent than Woakes at his best but Finn, by his own admission, has been struggling for rhythm. He had a long bowl into the mitts of the bowling coach, Ottis Gibson, during the break.
Now the two teams head for The Oval for the next game on Wednesday. The long-term forecast for London is grim and more rain is expected.
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