James Anderson’s brilliance was the reason England came within a smidgeon of winning the first Test against Sri Lanka, says Andrew Strauss.
England’s bowlers provided a thrilling climax on the final day at Lord’s, ripping through the visitors’ batting line-up after tea before falling just one wicket short of a remarkable victory.
Sri Lanka looked almost certain to secure a draw when Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were at the crease, but carnage ensued once Anderson removed the latter.
The tourists slipped from 159-2 to 201-9 and had to rely on No. 11 Nuwan Pradeep seeing out the final five balls of the match to ensure they trek to Headingley for the second Test – which starts on Friday, live on Sky Sports – all square.
Former England skipper Strauss told Sky Sports that Anderson (4-25 from 19 overs) was the trigger for the Sri Lankan collapse and thinks the hosts could have triumphed if they had declared earlier than Monday morning.
“Anderson didn’t bowl much in the afternoon, firstly because the ball wasn’t doing much but also because as [Alastair] Cook has four seamers he felt obligated to bowl all of them,” said Strauss, who skippered England between 2006-2012.
“However, Anderson came back on when it started to reverse swing and was extraordinary in getting out Jayawardene and then Sangakkara with a ball that came back into him.
“England were miles back in the game but he opened it up with two big wickets and so often he is the guy that makes the key breakthroughs.
“You can always talk about ‘what if?’ and I think England will look at the declaration more than anything and wonder if they could have given themselves more time.
“But I think they will take heart from the fact that Headingley is likely to have more bounce and carry for bowlers, so that four-pronged seam attack could be a good option.”
There was drama aplenty in the closing stages of the Test, with Rangana Herath walking to the pavilion - despite his hand being off the bat when he flicked the ball behind to England ‘keeper Matt Prior – and Pradeep reprieved by DRS after being given out lbw from the penultimate ball.
However, ex-Sri Lanka player Russel Arnold was impressed with the fortitude shown by his countrymen - and, unsurprisingly, the quality of Sangakkara, whose exit for 61 in the second innings prevented him from becoming only the third man to score centuries in each knock of a Lord’s Test match.
“Sri Lanka showed a lot of guts, which is all you can ask for,” said Arnold. “But I thought Sangakkara was in control as usual until Anderson bowled him.
“He didn’t seem in any trouble at all and his class, balance, how he holds things together and how he keeps churning out the runs is unbelievable.
“I was also impressed with Jayawardene (18), who had a torrid time against Liam Plunkett’s well-directed bouncers but hung on in there, and Kaushal Silva (57), whose half century took pressure off the players below him in the order.”
Watch day one of the second Test from 10.30pm, Friday, Sky Sports 2.