Sunday, March 25, 2012

Preview, 1st Test, Sri Lanka versus England, Galle

If you want the ingredients for a compelling Test lets stir in the factors of this game.....

1, A Sri Lankan Team that has not won a Test series since the retirement of the immortal Muttiah Muralidaran 2 years ago, and coming off a very disappointing Asian Cup

2, An English Team that was viewed as an undisputed number 1, and touted as being capable of a potential dynasty of success until they ventured to the spin confines of Asia, and were made to look very silly. Individually, and as a Team with them being humiliated in a 3 nil whitewash against Pakistan

3, A venue in Galle that no one has a clue about what it could present taking into account that it turned square from ball one last year compared to being a Route 66 road pitch the previous year.

Needless to say I have my mobile on silent and stocked up on viewing munchies such as BBQ Shapes and a nice bottle of Jameson's that will more than likely disappear just after Tea.

Sri Lanka

Likely Team

The biggest query over the Sri Lankan Team is who will partner Chanaka Welegedera as the new ball bowler. It seems to be between Dhammika Prasad and Suranga Lakmal with both having talent, but lets hope Prasad gets the nod. For most in the know view him as being a bowler that has the potential of the fine Test career if he was ever free of injury. Duly the Team will be as follows

Lahiru Thirimanne, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Thilan Samaraweera, Dinesh Chandimal, Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), Suraj Randiv, Rangana Herath, Dhammika Prasad, Chanaka Welegedera 

The Keys for Sri Lanka to Win

The Sri Lankan's would have been key observers to England's struggles against Pakistan and spin.

Duly, that will be their blue print to win this match and series

Making the question be whether they have the resources and skill in their spin department to make the English feel the same distress that they did in the Desert.

On that point I would say no for Pakistan's spin attack is the best in the game, and one of the best spin units we have seen in a good long time. That is ably assisted by the very attack minded tactics of their Captain Misbah ul Haq.

So the key point will be how the Sri Lankans can make the English relive their spin nightmares?

On this point the toss crucial for the Teams prospects with them needing to win it and bat well in the knowledge that their batting in home conditions has the potential to monster opposition attacks. Giving their bowlers the benefit of scoreboard pressure and the fields that go with it so they can get 20 wickets for which they have struggled with since the retirements of their bowling Legends in Murali and Chaminda Vaas.

To make this a reality, a huge emphasis will again fall on the spin duo of Suraj Randiv and Rangana Herath with occasional input from Tillekeratne Dilshan's part time spin. 

The wily Herath will have a huge bearing over the Teams prospects on the back of the struggles of England's batsmen against similar left arm tweakers as highlighted by Pakistan's Abdur Rehman's efforts against them ( 19 wickets at 16.73 ).

In Herath's favour is the fact that he has been a very fine performer for a while now and virtually carried the Teams bowling, but is often overlooked by oppositions.

Which is disrespectful to his threat as seen by him being devastating recently against the regal South African batting in confines not in his favour in Durban. Then was a perpetual thorn in the Australian sides in their series in Sri Lanka last year.

The rest of the bowling needs to step up to magnify his threat for if they struggle as they have of late then the English will just see off Herath and milk the rest.

This needs to start with the new ball duo getting early breakthroughs to allow the spinners to come on and bowling in an attacking guise supported by close in fields. As well as Suraj Randiv rediscovering the threat that saw him run through the Indian masters of spin in a Test a few years back.

It is a mystery that he has not progressed into a top class Test spinner, but he has it in his make up to be very accomplished, and if he does in this game.

Then the hosts getting 20 wickets will be a walk in the park.

England

Likely Team

The English would be wise because of the brutally hot conditions and the strength of the Sri Lankan batsmen to choose 5 bowlers. But with how average their batting was in playing spin against Pakistan it is hard to see them taking that leap of faith. Meaning the only likely change is Ravi Bopara taking Eoin Morgan's position at 6 with the Team employing a 2 pace man and 2 spinner attack.

Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Bopara, Prior, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Panesar

The Keys for England to Win

The main key for England will be how they adapt to the conditions with the main focus being on their batsmen's ability against spin, but do not under estimate the difficulty of getting 20 wickets in conditions likely to favour batsmen.

Starting with the battings folly against spin....

You can see two men in Andy Flower and Graham Gooch being at the forefront of proving that performance was an unwanted aberration rather than a weakness for oppositions to exploit. Both very proud men, who were masters in the careers at playing spin, and in their Coaching tenures of turning fortunes around.

Just reminisce on the case of Alistair Cook looking like a bunny to the ball outside off in 2010 against Pakistan to his Bradman-like efforts in the Ashes 3 months later for proof of their calibre.

So you can expect a more refined display from the batsmen against the expected spin onslaught. That will be facilitated by them playing with more proactive mindsets that was so lacking against Pakistan. Leading the charge in this will be what has characterised England's rise to the top of the game in their top 3.

You can see the likes of Alistair Cook, who has already dominated so far in the tour and Jonathan Trott being hell bent on a return to their gluttonous run making ways.

Throw in a revved up Andrew Strauss, who might have the added inspiration of his spot in the Team being under threat after a 2 year period of 973 runs at an average of just 32.43 with just one century.

If they can rediscover their touch it takes the pressure off the middle order that was dismembered against Pakistan. Meaning the likes of Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen will be presented with dealing with their past demons without the bowlers having everything in their favour. Allowing them to return to their 2011 reality of creating nightmares for others, rather than living them.

Logically the batting dealing with the spin will be key for the tourists, but do not under estimate in the role of the bowling in any potential success.

Ideally because of the brutally oppressive climate of Sri Lanka, the Team would want to have a 5 man attack. But you cannot see after the batting efforts in the UAE that the selectors will have faith in their performance here. Making it a near certainty that 6 specialist batsmen will be selected with Ravi Bopara and Jonathan Trott sharing a greater bowling work load.

Making the question being can England get 20 wickets?

You would have faith in Stuart Broad's ability to rattle the Sri Lankan cages, but after that question marks abound.

Especially around the English King Pins in James Anderson, who traditionally struggles in Asia as seen in his career average of 37.8 and Graeme Swann, who might find it very hard to trouble masters of playing spin with his orthodox off spin.

Both are proud and skilful bowlers making you think that they could come up huge, but doubts still are attached to them.

And then there is Monty Panesar.........

Brilliant against Pakistan, but can he replicate the form here?

Prediction

The pitch and its characteristics will be a huge factor in the match...

Then the toss crucial as well...

I think England will put in a much improved batting display making it hard to see Sri Lanka getting 20 wickets. But by the same token, I cannot see the English attack getting 20 wickets either.

So a high scoring draw is on the cards


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