England should have declared early against Sri Lanka but must not be too harshly criticised for playing it safe, says Mark Butcher.
Alastair Cook declared overnight after amassing a lead of 389 on day four, and England fell agonisingly short as they could only take nine Sri Lankan wickets before the close of play on Monday.
The decision to not declare early on Sunday and have a brief spell of bowling at Sri Lanka before the close of day four has sparked criticism of Cook’s decision-making, but Sky Sports pundit Butcher told The Verdict he believes the England skipper should be afforded some leniency.
“We said we’d much preferred them to have had half an hour at Sri Lanka [on Sunday] night, but I think the excuse is valid,” he said.
“It’s very easy to get stuck into Alastair Cook and England at the moment because they’re a wounded animal in many ways, but I do believe they will have learned and taken an enormous amount of confidence from the performance today, and the fact they got so close.
“Perhaps in a situation further down the line in the summer they won’t be quite so cautious.”
“As much as I’d love to stick the boot in, we’ve got to give them a tiny bit of leeway on this one, because Alastair has been very bruised and very battered over the last five or six Test matches. I’m excusing him this time.”
In a dramatic conclusion to the first Test, Stuart Broad thought he had won the game for England on the penultimate ball as Nuwan Pradeep was given out lbw only to see the decision reversed by review.
The Sri Lanka number 11 then edged the final ball just short of Chris Jordan in the slips as he survived five balls. The England bowling attack could have had more of a look at the tail-enders had they declared earlier, but Butcher believes Cook isn’t yet confident enough in the developing team.
“I think a slightly bolder side that had a specialist spinner in it, a side that had been winning a bit more would without any doubt have pulled out half an hour earlier and given themselves time because they knew they were going to win,” he added.
“This is not an England side that knows they’re going to go out there the next day and roll a side over. They don’t know that because they don’t have the personnel there yet to trust that that’s going to happen.”
During the course of the match 17 overs were lost because of slow over rates from both sides, and Sky Sports expert Bob Willis criticised the attitude of the sides for not considering each day’s finish time.
“The players seem to think playing hours are 11 to 6.30 – they’re not,” he said. “They’re 11 until six.
“I’m not sure what the administrators can do about this because fines really don’t work. The last thing we want is artificially docking sides runs but it may have to come to that because the players, the spectators and the viewers at home are all being denied.”