Sunday, 25 March 2012

Staying Ahead

It used to be that Australia and the West Indies were the toughest places to go and win a series.  That Sri Lanka is currently being talked up probably has everything to do with England’s desire to get back on track after the disaster that was the test series against Pakistan.  Tomorrow sees them begin that fight-back to hold on to their cherished number one spot in test cricket with the first test against Sri Lanka at Galle.

As has been commented before, Sri Lanka are in a post Muralitharan rebuilding phase – none of their spin attack has exactly stepped into the large shoes of the great man.  Yet should England feel any of the complacency they might have had pre the Pakistan test series (which the shouldn’t have anyway in no small thanks to Pakistan’s unerring capacity to be England’s party poopers) they should remember that the great spinners have a tendency to announce themselves against England as Warne (in 1993) and Muralitharan himself did (in 1998).  Having said that, Sri Lanka’s spin bowling options look to be built around the 34 year old Herath and the 27 year old Randiv, who should be able to exploit the spin friendly conditions in Sri Lanka.

It will be interesting to see though the effect of the test series loss to Pakistan on England.  Any team with ambitions to retain their position at the top of their game would be aiming to beat Sri Lanka.  Yet there is now this doubt about this England line up.  The bowling attack functioned well enough, with the addition of Panesar outshining the “number one spinner” Swann.  The problems came with the form of the batsmen, with the wicketkeeper Prior the only batsman having a decent series.  To this end, Morgan appears to have been jettisoned with a re-call for Ravi Bhopara looking to take his place at 6.  Bhopara last played in the Headingley Ashes test, having had a nightmare in that Ashes series.  He was however playing at number 3, when a lot of the Australian observers thought that he might be better off lower down the order.  That chance has come, if he can nail this position he would solve the problem England have had there since Collingwood retired.

That doesn’t mean that others are secure, Ian Bell and the skipper Andrew Strauss need to pick up their form in particular – Strauss hasn’t scored a century since the Brisbane Ashes test, but got a half century in the Sydney Ashes test.  Bell’s drought is not so deep – three tests since his 235 against India at the Oval – but looked alarmingly out of form.

England need a result in this series, a repeat of their 2-1 series win here in March 2001 would go down nicely.  Especially as South Africa are now right behind England in the test rankings.  With an expected series win in New Zealand (depending on what happens in the last 3 days of the third test there), South Africa will be looking to take over top spot when they come to play England in the second half of the summer.  It’s a true that getting to the top is one thing, staying there is another.  England are about to find out just how true that is.

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