England vs Sri Lanka | Thursday 12 June – Monday 16 June | Lord’s | 12:00
A momentous ODI series win for the Sri Lankans, not devoid of controversy or excitement, leads into an important two-match Test series for both the hosts and the visitors. England’s motivation is one of pride, both in former glory and recent selection. Tasked with rebuilding a squad decimated by Australia Down Under, post-Ashes malaise has no room. If England don’t rectify many of their glaring weakness in haste, they run the risk of suffering their first full Test series defeat to Sri Lanka on home soil. If, of course, one can refer to two Tests as a full series. The tourists will be confident in their ability to upset the applecart, their adaption to English conditions thus far being quite remarkable.
Sri Lanka 7/2
With only seven survivors from England’s horrendous tour of Australia late last year, the remolding of English Test cricket is officially in motion. Of course, the squad is one without a certain Kevin Pietersen, undoubtedly still the most dangerous and compelling batsman of English descent. If asked, I’m sure KP would come to the conclusion that the current squad is slightly light in the batting department. He wouldn’t be wrong. Only Alastair Cook and Ian Bell remain from recent glory days, a largely untested top order lining up against a persistent Sri Lankan attack. The squad of twelve contains three uncapped players in Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan and Sam Robson. Ali has impressed to a degree in recent limited overs forays and is an exciting talent; a solid top order batsmen who doubles as a competent off-spinner. Chris Jordan will likely battle Liam Plunkett for the role of third seamer behind stalwarts Anderson and Broad, Plunkett returning at the age of 29 following seven years in Test exile. His domestic form has impressed and seems the most likely candidate to run in at Lord’s.
Sam Robson is a young player who has shown plenty of promise and is touted to open the innings alongside captain Alastair Cook. Five centuries for English development sides last season has shown his aptitude for building a big innings and his style complements a middle-order comprised of Ballance, Root and Bell. While players come and go, England clearly have not changed their philosophy. They will look to grind down the opposition with slow, measured and inevitably boring displays of batting, looking towards their swing and seam bowlers to defend a big total. The problem is that even when England were at perceivable ‘full-strength’, they passed 300 only twice in Australia and both of those innings came with a Test already lost. They have not passed 400 since March last year, thirteen Tests ago.
The visitors could not have hoped for better preparation for the Tests, having had plenty of time to acclimatise to conditions first against Ireland, then against the English in the limited overs format. The Sri Lankans can also take positives from their tour match against Northants, scoring 558 in the first innings with opener Kaushal Silva and middle-order batsman Lahiru Thirimanne recording 152 and 156 respectively. Dilruwan Perera scored a half-century and took four wickets with his off-spin, however it is unlikely that Sri Lanka will overlook Rangana Herath as the primary spin option, a necessity for three seamers required in English conditions. On that note, Sri Lanka have a possible five pace bowlers in contention. Dhammika Prasad picked up four wickets in the tour match with added pace and a lethal bouncer, and should he start with the earmarked Shaminda Eranga, it will mean that Nuwan Kulasekara, Chanaka Welegedara and Nuwan Pradeep will be forced to fight it out for the right to bowl at Lord’s. Of the three, Kulasekara seems to have the best game to suit English pitches, though Welegedara offers a left-arm option while Pradeep is highly touted.
In terms of batting, it is the top of the order that will cause Sri Lanka the most concern. Dimuth Karunaratne has failed to impress in England so far and with Thirimanne opting not to open the batting, leaves Sri Lanka with a slight conundrum. They don’t have an adequate replacement unless they choose to move Chandimal to opener, and their middle-order is fit to burst with talent as it is. If Chandimal does not open, he will likely lose his place to Thirimanne. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene will bat three and four, class and experience oozing from their very mention. Angelo Mathews has been in fantastic form and is a reliable number six, while ‘keeper/batsman Prasanna Jayawardene is more than handy at seven. The Sri Lankans look to have a balance and poise to their side, but will have to find a way to blunt the new ball without the loss of key players.
There is not much to be said for Lord’s that has not been said already, the illustrious ground and achievement boards seemingly a dangling carrot for touring teams. Recently, the glory of cementing a name among the Lord’s faithful has been supreme motivation for individual performances from the tourists and the Sri Lankans will feel no different. Indeed, they have drawn all of their Tests at the ground in modern era; 2002, 2006 and 2011. The only rain predicted is light, occurring on Saturday.
BEST: Top England 1st Innings Batsman, Joe Root 5/1
Not in the greatest form and still finding his feet in the international arena, Root burst onto the scene as a sort-of saving grace for England. Much will be expected of him, now a somewhat senior member of the batting line-up. He has a good record at Lord’s, consistently among the runs and notched up his highest score of 180 in the second innings of the Ashes Test against Australia at the ground last year.
VERDICT: Draw 21/10
I’m usually loathe to tip a drawn Test, especially when weather is not a primary concern. However, with England’s pragmatic approach and a Sri Lankan batting line-up looking organised and in form, it could well end up that way. Sri Lanka’s problem in the Test arena is taking twenty wickets and although they face an inexperienced England, perhaps will not have enough quality to bowl them out until they get a pitch that turns. The draw is decent value as well, so get on.