Leon Wobschall: Fun in the sun sees Plunkett take star turn

England's Liam Plunkett celebrates bowling out Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene.
England's Liam Plunkett celebrates bowling out Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene.
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THE perfect antidote to those World Cup blues looked a comfortable sell on paper for Yorkshire folk seeking a sporting rush at Headingley after viewing those bothersome events in Sao Paulo. At least there’s the cricket ...

With the weather set fair for five days and the fact it was a series decider after all the drama at Lord’s earlier in the week when Sri Lanka survived by the skin of their teeth, there were plenty of reasons for optimism for a positive turnout.

Throw in a competitive, decent-paced pitch as opposed to a docile surface at Lord’s and, in short, a good contest was expected between bat and ball – before the tourists late implosion, anyway.

The ingredients were all there at the start, we even had three home boys in Liam Plunkett, Joe Root and Gary Ballance in action.

It was just a shame, then, that a few more spectators didn’t find their way to Headingley, whose advance sales for the first day stood at 11,000.

It’s a fair bet than plenty more wished they had parted with their hard-earned and made the effort now, with a Yorkie in Plunkett truly announcing himself again with England. A hat-trick chance as well, to boot, but it was left to Stuart Broad to claim that honour, albeit spanning two overs. Someone tell him.

Around 7,500 were in, early doors, less than half-full, as England elected to bowl after winning the toss - in the sort of cloudy, muggy conditions that Headingley is famed for and which generally prompt a decision to ‘have a bowl.’

Alistair Cook, under the pump a bit and in need of runs, did what most would expect - especially given the four-seam attack at his disposal. Although some with a bit more local knowledge were tempted to go the other way and bat, with sunny intervals predicted later.

While the numbers game may not quite have stacked up for Yorkshire officials, two North Riding men had reason to celebrate one statistic that certainly measured up – Liam and Alan Plunkett.

The latter was holidaying in sunny Cyprus when his lad made his Test return at Lord’s, of all places, last week. But he was here to see his boy claim the wicket of Dimuth Karunartine with the second ball of his opening spell at his home ground, just as the clouds were breaking at Headingley. It was the start of a grand day for them.

The sight of the Middlesbrough-born enforcer uproot the leg stump of left-hander Karunartine was a box-office one, the sort that would have been heralded by vast throngs of parochial spectators on the old Western Terrace in its heyday after he powered in from the Kirkstall Lane end.

The cheers were appreciative, but not exactly raucous and lusty. Thankfully, a few more were in by the time Plunkett well and truly came to the party just under two hours later.

The Teessider ran in from the Football Ground end to take the wickets of Mahela Jayawardene, brilliantly caught one-handed by Chris Jordan and Lahiru Thirimanne in successive balls.

Plunkett’s double burst failed to bring a hat-trick, with Angelo Mathews blocking his money ball. But theatre, for sure, a crowd enlivened and the blushes spared of one Matt Prior, who unfathomably fluffed a dolly catch to send Kumar Sangakkara, of all people, packing in Plunkett’s previous over.

Spin, of the part-time variety, arrived at 3pm from Moeen Ali and a half-century for the accomplished Sangakkara. Not a man you would choose to drop, not once, but twice, with Ali fluffing his lines before tea. Not too mention a run-out opportunity when he was on nought

The sun got hotter and the noise decibels were again cranked up when Ballance, at third slip, tidily caught out Matthews. Likened by some in style to Aussie great Allan Border, Ballance also showed his proficiency, like Border did in his pomp, wide in the slip cordon.

Less edifying was an over of off-spin before tea from Root ahead of the final session, when the late-comers arrived to start their weekend and be royally entertained as Sri Lanka disintegrated after Sangakkara finally ran out of luck, fittingly caught by Ian Bell on his big day for 79, with Plunkett soon announcing his arrival again, along with Broad, improved of mood.

The fun in the sun, may not necessarily last for all five days.

But get yourself here while you can.

In form: England's Jonny Bairstow on his way to a half-century in Brisbane.

Joe Root smiling again as England coast to victory