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  • England v Sri Lanka, First Test, Day Four

Ballance ton shores up England

The Report by David Hopps
June 15, 2014 « Arsenal already had Ozil, so didn't need me - Fabregas | WILL TEST Rashid's burst takes Yorkshire top »
Gary Ballance recorded his maiden Test hundred © Getty Images
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England 575 for 9 dec and 267 for 8 (Ballance 104*, Plunkett 2*) lead Sri Lanka 453 (Sangakkara 147, Mathews 102, Anderson 3-93) by 389 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Such had been the mastery of bat against ball at Lord's that few would have quailed at the notion that Gary Ballance might complete the fourth day with a maiden Test century to his name. This Test surface has not been short of largesse for any batsman worth his salt. What would have surprised them was that he would have achieved it from a position of adversity after Sri Lanka briefly transformed the complacent mood of the first Test with a wonderful bowling performance.

The sight of Ballance reaching his hundred in the final over by hoicking Rangana Herath's left-arm slows over the advertising boards at midwicket re-established batting supremacy. Joe Root, Kumar Sangakkara, and Angelo Mathews earlier on the fourth day - all had busied the Lord's sign writer.

But shortly after tea, England has been precariously placed at 121 for 6, possessing a vulnerable lead of 233. It was the discrimination of his first fifty, helped in his task by an exuberant contribution from Chris Jordan, which told most of Ballance's substance as a cricketer. Only in the last half-hour did Ballance, comfortably proportioned and increasingly ruddy of face, extend his range in a delighted dash to personal glory.

Sri Lanka claimed six wickets for 75 in 24 overs, all but one before tea, as they silenced premature chatter about exactly when England would have batted Sri Lanka out of the game and be able to push for victory. Some judges remained impatient for England to declare and have half an hour bowling at Sri Lanka, and whilst that policy would have been uplifting, England, in a parlous state, could easily have overstretched themselves in seeking it. By the time they added 58 in the last seven overs, moving the fourth-innings target into unchartered territory for Lord's, the chance for a declaration had gone.

Sri Lanka's retort after conceding a first-innings lead of 112 was some achievement on a pitch that by and large remained as politely accoutred as a civilised guest at a St John's Wood soiree. Only now is it offering some turn and low bounce: a little shabby in places, as if the first glass of red had been generously poured.

Their recovery was sparked by an excellent new-ball spell, comfortably the best of the match, by Shaminda Eranga, who took the first three wickets during a 10-over spell on a cloudy, floodlit afternoon. After the incursions were made by his spell of 3 for 24, Herath rabbited into the hole to leave England shaken.

Eranga took his time to bowl himself into rhythm in this Test but, after England resumed 45 minutes before lunch with a lead of 122, he reached the peak of his game. No other bowler has browbeaten such a response from this surface.

Eranga defeated Alastair Cook's forward push - as stiff limbed as a Buckingham Place guardsman - to have him caught at the wicket and, bowling with vigour from the Nursery End, then twice held his line up the Lord's slope to cause Sam Robson and Ian Bell to play on.

If the dismissals of Robson and Bell were identical, their mental approach was not. Robson, the young Middlesex opener on Test debut, has batted with suspicion throughout. He made 19 from 50 balls, largely through leg-side nurdles, and regarded deliveries outside off stump with mechanical distrust. If he makes it as a Test regular, he might prove to be an acquired taste.

Bell, by contrast, played with a suppleness Robson could only have dreamed of. Admiration was cut short before he had reached double figures. Perhaps there was over-confidence in his drive on the up but, as England's classiest batsman, he represented their best chance of achieving the impetus needed for a declaration before the close.

When Herath then dismissed Root and Moeen Ali in successive overs, the chance again rose that Sri Lanka could indeed be batting on the fourth evening - but by virtue of bowling England out. Herath's rotund shape and unthreatening countenance disguises his craft: indeed, it may be part of his deception.

Root was caught on the crease by one that turned to strike his back pad. Moeen, who had struck his first ball from Herath for six in the first innings, this time danced down the track to deposit him over mid-on for four. But there was a looseness in his defensive push at the following delivery and Herath turned the ball through the gate to bowl him. He will need to tighten his approach to succeed as a Test batsman.

It could have been even better for Sri Lanka. Matt Prior was reprieved second ball, on nought, in the first innings when Sri Lanka narrowly failed to overturn the umpire's refusal of Herath's lbw appeal. Remarkably, the sequence was re-enacted to his third ball in the second innings, Prior pushing forward to a wide, round-arm delivery, umpire Bowden turning down the appeal as it thudded into his pad and Prior surviving, again by Umpire's Call, because the ball was not in line of off stump. Prior, though, did not remain for long.

Before lunch, Angelo Mathews became the second Sri Lanka batsman to add his name to the Lord's honours board, at his first attempt. It was an innings characterised by ebullient, bottom-hand blows, the target reached with a full-blooded smite through the off side as James Anderson served up a low, wide full toss. He was out in the next over, to the next ball he faced, as Liam Plunkett had him lbw with a ball of full length, Mathews' decision to review the decision failing to spare him.

England would be satisfied to have removed Sri Lanka's last three wickets for 38 runs in 14.4 overs, but their tactics invited discussion. Mathews was starting a new day, but England saw only the swagger of his unbeaten 79 on Saturday afternoon. They encouraged him to get off strike, preferring boundary riders to slips, and concentrated on battering the tail.

They did batter them, too. Of the 17 balls Herath faced, only the last one, a near-yorker from James Anderson which crashed into his middle stump, was full length; Stuart Broad, by contrast, was short and uncompromising.

There was even more physical threat in the fall of Sri Lanka's last man, Nuwan Pradeep. Failing to handle a short ball from Jordan, he was struck on the right shoulder, swung around in a mixture of pain and self-preservation and was out hit wicket as he careered his bat into middle stump. England showed decent concern for his welfare. But it would be surprising if there was not some smirking at the comedy of it all in the privacy of the dressing room.

Nuwan Pradeep felt the full force of a Chris Jordan bouncer as Sri Lanka were dismissed for 453 © Getty Images
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David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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