Chris Waters: Why Sam Curran can light up international cricket for next 15 years
SOMETHING about Sam Curran. Something about the way that he plays the game. Something about the entertainment that he gives with bat and ball.
It was something that lit up the Pallekele Stadium in Kandy, where Curran’s brilliant innings of 64 – including six sixes – helped England to 285 all out on day one of the second Test, Sri Lanka replying with 26-1.
It was the highest score of the innings – shading Jos Buttler’s 63 – and was largely compiled in alliance with last man James Anderson, who contributed an unbeaten seven to their potentially match-turning stand of 60.
When he finally holed out on the long-off boundary off spinner Dilruwan Perera, the 20-year-old Curran received an ovation from the travelling England supporters – and a good many Sri Lankan ones, too – that could not have been more rapturous had he been walking off the field at his home ground of The Oval.
People recognise a rare talent when they see it, and it is salivating to contemplate what the Surrey youngster could go on to achieve in the coming years.
Already, Curran has achieved much since making his Test debut at Headingley only last June.
This was his third Test 50 from the No 8 position, to go with 63 against India at Edgbaston and 78 against the same opponents in Southampton, and it lifted his batting average a touch above 40, suggesting that he has the ability to become a batting all-rounder in the top-six.
When he pulled spinner Akila Dananjaya for his fifth maximum to reach 50 from 92 deliveries, Curran became the first man to reach each of his first three Test half-centuries in the grand manner.
At that stage, he had yet to strike the solitary four of his innings, also beating New Zealander Martin Guptill’s record of three for the most sixes in a Test half-century that did not contain a four.
If that suggests to the uninitiated that Curran must be a powerful, Ben Stokes-like figure with prodigious upper-body strength and muscles positively bursting out of his skin, think again.
Although no scrawny weakling, Curran is not particularly well-built and relies more on hand-eye co-ordination and natural timing than sheer brute force.
The left-hander is more of a feisty pocket-rocket than a strapping Hercules, a man whose competitive instinct positively oozes from every pore.
His facial features, at very the point of delivery, are screwed-up in the sort of intense concentration that suggests that his very life is at stake, although a smile is never too far from the cherubic visage, a smile set to adorn the international stage for the next 15 years.
Curran certainly has much to smile about at present – as do England in terms of boasting a player of such skill in their ranks.
What England have less to smile about, though, is a top-order batting line-up that consistently struggles, relying too much on the sort of rescue act undertaken here by Curran and Buttler.
After Keaton Jennings and the new No 3 Stokes made little impact, and after Joe Root failed again, Buttler swept with the diligence of a domestic butler as he counter-attacked in familiar fashion after Rory Burns fell for a steady 43.
Moeen Ali and Ben Foakes came and went, the latter surprisingly not calling for a review when replays showed that he had not touched an attempted sweep that flew to slip, but Buttler was predictably positivity personified.
So was Adil Rashid, who made a jaunty 31 from 52 balls, but it was Curran who turned things England’s way.
Initially circumspect (he scored only 16 from his first 65 balls), Curran’s 119-ball innings accelerated perfectly, gaining electrifying pace when last man Anderson came to the crease.
At times he was a little fortunate as a couple of chances went astray (and he was certainly helped by some baffling tactics that routinely allowed him to take a single towards the end of an over), but Curran played the situation superbly and in a fashion from which many of his more experienced colleagues could learn.
Most of his sixes were hit straight with a delightful swing and follow-through, all executed with a confidence that belied his tender years.
Curran used his feet well to the spinners and did not allow himself to be stuck on the crease in the manner of some of his team-mates.
From 171-7 when Buttler departed, Curran contributed the lion’s share as the last three wickets added 114, spinner Jack Leach then producing a jaffer that gripped, straightened and bowled Sri Lanka opener Kaushal Silva.
With the pitch already looking more like a fourth-day surface, and turning plenty, England look to be in a good position after Root won his seventh successive toss.