Sri Lanka v England preview

Two Tests. England have flown 8700 kilometres (roughly) for just two Tests. Admittedly, I’m kind of glad there aren’t any ODIs or T20s on the tour, but two Tests is really not ever enough. Especially given that the Sri Lanka Cricket Board are still in some financial difficulty, one would think that they would be very keen to have as many Tests as possible against England. I concede that it isn’t very feasible, however. It’s hard to fit two tours in after Christmas; there isn’t time for a third Test as it would be clashing badly with the County Championship (the second Test already overlaps slightly with the first round of matches) and England could not really have come much earlier, the Pakistan tour had barely ended anyway. So two Tests it is.

Despite the poor showing in Pakistan, and a poor recent record in Sri Lanka, I think England are still favourites. Sri Lanka don’t have the same quality of bowling that Pakistan have (they still badly miss Murali and Malinga) and our batsmen appear to be in much better form than they were in January. I think the best battles will be when Sri Lanka are batting. We still have one of, if not the, best bowling attacks in the world and one which has shown the ability to take wickets even in unhelpful conditions. At the same time, however, Sri Lanka have the world’s best batsman in Kumar Sangakkara and two very good ones in Thilan Samaraweera and Mahela Jayawardene, though the latter is starting to show his age. England’s bowlers had a brilliant match in the first warmup, but struggled in the second so it’s hard to say how they’ll go in the Tests. Neither match was played at one of this series’ Test grounds so we can’t assume much about the wickets that we didn’t already know. I’m slightly more inclined to think that the bowlers will go well though. England were without Jimmy Anderson in the match where they struggled and as good as Broad is, it is important to have an attack leader. Furthermore, England played two spinners in the first match, as they are likely to do in the Tests, but only one in the second. There will be tough battles against the Test quality opposition, but we know that Sri Lanka are prone to collapse (see the 2011 Cardiff Test) and I think England have the skill to trigger a couple.

Sri Lanka will have seen England in Pakistan though and must be thinking that England are just as if not more vulnerable to collapse as they are. I’m not sure that’s accurate, however. Sri Lanka simply do not have the same bowling strength as Pakistan. Rangana Herath is probably their biggest threat, given England’s problems against spin, and he’s not a bad bowler. He still averages 35 in Test cricket though. The rest of their attack are even worse. Angelo Mathews is out with an injury and will probably never bowl again regardless. The second spinner in the squad, Suraj Randiv, averages over 42 and the two pacemen, Suranga Lakmal and Chanaka Welegedara average 55 and just under 40 respectively. Averages aren’t everything, of course, and England will have to play a lot better against spin than they did in Pakistan, but it does go to show that the Sri Lankan attack is not one that would be feared under normal circumstances. Fortunately for England, the batsmen have got off to a much better start this tour than last time. Cook has scored 163* in his only innings and Strauss and Trott both have unbeaten centuries (both retired). KP, Patel and Prior all have fifties. The only worry is Bell, who has still not found his form. There is still the question of who will bat at six, but Patel seems to be firmly in the lead (thank god) as Bopara will not be able to bowl if picked. (Not that he should do anyway. Jonathan Trott actually has better career figures.)

The matches are not played on paper, as we found out with a bump in the UAE, but England will wish that they were. Even taking into account the struggles into the UAE, England are clearly the much better side. They have far, far better bowlers and at least comparable batsmen. They will have to find a way cope with the very harsh conditions though. Apparently it got up to 46 degrees during the recent warmup match and even if the pitches are not outright hostile for our bowlers, they will not be helpful. I don’t think Sri Lanka have the bowling to force a victory, but they do have the batting to possibly force a draw. I think England will win the series 1-0, though if we play well a 2-0 margin is definitely possible.

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