Sri Lanka vs England | Saturday 29 November | Colombo | 06:30
With Sri Lanka’s monsoon season in full rain-drenched glory, the likelihood of full matches in this series is akin to the Dolphins’ continual struggles at Kingsmead. Why the Sri Lankan cricket board continue to schedule tours in November is beyond my simple comprehension. Yet, somehow, against all weather-reported logic, the first ODI went ahead and produced a fascinating fixture. Still reeling from a toxic tour of India, the hosts came together well in familiar surroundings and made steps towards forgetting their comprehensive bashing at the hands of their subcontinental rivals. England are still searching for a blueprint they can use to challenge at a World Cup that they have all but been ruled out of, with promising signs and hefty concerns mingling in equal measure.
Sri Lanka’s victory over England in the first ODI stands in stark contrast to the hammering they endured in India. They suffered the worst ODI whitewash in their history, conceding two totals in excess of 350, Rohit Sharma’s individual 264 and failing to cross 300 themselves in all five matches. Their fielding bordered on atrocious, crossing the line into farcical during Sharma’s blitzkrieg. However, it seems they have quickly managed to forget that shambolic tour, making marked improvements in all areas against the English. Their fielding certainly increased in intensity, however dropping Moeen Ali twice on his way to 119 will still cause Angelo Mathews’ blood to boil. Kusal Perera’s return to some semblance of form at the top of the order is important; his speedy dismissals before being dropped from the side against India would leave Sri Lanka on the immediate back foot. Perera must make a habit of backing up his prodigious talent with more scores of substance, allowing Sri Lanka’s experienced campaigners to dot the middle-order and provide balance and stability.
A much maligned English side perhaps did enough to justify the decisions made in their ODI overhaul, Moeen Ali certainly providing the panache called upon at the top of the order. England’s bearded crusader powered his way to the third-fastest English ODI hundred, his 119 from 87 deliveries not simply muscle but also punctuated by perfect placement. The century was no flash in the pan, Ali has made a fantastic start to his international career. In thirteen matches, excluding the seven T20s he has featured in, he has two centuries and two fifties. He is now first-choice to open England’s ODI innings with captain Alastair Cook, displacing the much beloved and highly-rated Alex Hales. Ali also generally bowls a full compliment of overs, making him a coveted commodity for any side in the world. The only question that remains regarding the opening partnership is whether Cook can justify his own place. He successfully reviewed two very close LBW shouts to survive the first over, before falling to the same mode of dismissal after struggling to ten runs. Additionally, it will take more than a Moeen Ali masterclass to turn England into World Cup contenders. Despite missing James Anderson and Stuart Broad, England’s bowling attack was weak and loose. Ravi Bopara found himself present for another deflated English finale, a player so often forgotten when herding England’s tail in a losing cause. He has tremendous value in the lower order but needs to move above Buttler to be truly effective. Another staggering stat that does not bode well for the World Cup in Australia; England have never chased more than 306 for victory.
The second of four ODIs scheduled for the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, there shouldn’t be too much difference in expectation of how the pitch will play. In fact, it may not present the nip that England found in the opening overs this time around and may play even better for batting. However, the likelihood of a full match is almost non-existent. With an 80% chance of rain throughout the day, I’ll be surprised if they can squeeze in enough overs for a result.
VERDICT: Sri Lanka 11/20
No matter how many overs the sides get in, one thing that is for certain is that Sri Lanka are the stronger of the two. Their spin options are able to perplex the English towards the back-end of the innings and their top-to-middle-order is full of power and experience. The Sri Lankans have also been phenomenal on home soil this year. I wouldn’t look much further than the favourites. .
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