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England win worth the wait

Posted in England v Sri Lanka 2011

Stuart Broad

Stuart Broad completes a stunning England bowling display on the final evening

For proof that good things come to those who wait, look no further than the first npower Test at Cardiff.

Five increasingly frustrating days spent either dodging or watching the rain erupted into life on the final evening as England pulled off a victory that has variously been described as unlikely, improbable, astonishing or unbelievable, depending on which paper you read.

The Sri Lankans may disagree, but the dénouement to the opening Test of the international summer was surely amongst the most thrilling English crowds have witnessed.

Twenty-four hours on, I’m sure I’m not the only person still struggling to come to terms with how England won a game in which their first innings was still in progress beyond 3pm on the final day.

Even when Sri Lanka took tea on 33 for two, trailing by just 63 and with Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in situ, the prospects of anything other than a draw were slim, bordering on anorexic.

The spectators, the pundits, even the players (Graeme Swann later admitted he had not entertained the idea of an England win) did not count upon Chris Tremlett extending his stunning new-ball spell, which yielded two early wickets, into the evening session.

It was as good as anything he produced during the Ashes, partly because of the psychological impact it had on both sets of players, but also because it was achieved on a pitch on which Sri Lanka had managed five wickets in 155 overs.

Relishing the sort of situation that makes even jobbing club spinners salivate, Swann capitalised on a drying surface, a gaggle of close fielders and the nerves of an exposed middle order to claim four wickets in 10 balls.

Given Sri Lanka’s mental state, Stuart Broad’s mopping up of the tail was entirely predictable. They had been bowled out in only 24.4 overs.

Graeme Swann

Graeme Swann adds to the panic in the Sri Lanka ranks by removing Farveez Maharoof, one of four wickets in 10 balls

That this was a battle they were not expecting does not qualify as an excuse. Maybe (I think I can safely say this is the only publication where you will read this today) they should have taken a leaf out of Sepp Blatter’s book.

If this was not quite Test cricket at its best - Sri Lanka’s ineptitude saw to that - it was a wonderful example of how the longest form of the game retains the capacity to enthral like no other.

One of the few disappointing aspects of an innings-and-14-run win for England was the sparse crowd that witnessed it, although it is difficult to blame those who did not fancy spending a morning (the fourth in five) sat under an umbrella waiting for what appeared, at best, to be a glorified net session for the home attack.

It was with more than a hint of irony that the sun was beating down as the players gave post-match interviews that were laced with disbelief as well as joy.

Perhaps the happiest man in the ground was Andy Flower, the England team director, whose smile as he embraced the support staff on the dressing room balcony was as broad as anything we saw during the Ashes.

For him, like so many others watching yesterday, patience was truly a virtue.

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