Three days on and Sri Lanka’s collapse to 82 all out on the final day at Sophia Gardens remains astonishing. What should have been a routine voyage ended in disaster. One minute the Lankans were supposed to ease their way to a comfortable, even dull, draw, the next they were holed below the waterline and then, within minutes, broken-backed and disappearing into the murky oblivion of the deep. Such is life and such is cricket and test cricket still enthralls. The old dame still has some songs in her pipes.
It’s not uncommon in other sports – golf, snooker, tennis – for a competitor playing poorly to drag his opponent down to his own impoverished level. And of course these sports, golf most obviously, offer ample opportunity for an individual’s game to collapse most pitifully. There’s sometimes a whiff of this in other team sports too. But a football or rugby team is rarely afflicted by a sudden and mysterious crisis of confidence in the midst of an otherwise routine match. Even when this does happen, a lack of faith in a goalkeeper’s ability to handle crosses on a given afternoon can, to some extent at least, be compensated for by denying the opposition the opportunity to move the ball into wider areas from which to target a goalie. Or, of course, the keeper may be substituted.
Of the many nuances that make cricket such an interesting sport, the tensions produced by it being simultaneously an individual and a collective endeavour are among the most fascinating and unpredictable. Each batsman’s contribution to the greater good is, notionally at least, distinct. That two wickets have fallen in rapid succession ought not, again notionally, make it more likely that a third will follow in swift order.