Monday, May 23, 2011

Test cricket's back on Thursday!

Well, in England it is. Yes, the summer where England's Ashes heroes take on a Murali-less Sri Lanka and India, who are currently world number one in the Test rankings, begins down at the Swalec Stadium in Cardiff.

It's being heralded as a 'new dawn' in the press, as England have three different captains for the three formats. Andrew Strauss retains command of the Test side, a side that he and Andy Flower have helped to turn around since the West Indies tour back in 2009. This summer will pose them probably one of the toughest tests at home so far.

Sri Lanka are also a team going through a 'new dawn' as such. They have lost their lead tormentor, have a new captain (with the two previous captains still in the ranks) and some of their bowling attack have probably not experienced English conditions. Having said this, Sri Lanka have won two out of two tour matches against Middlesex and the England Lions (England Lions having posted 493 in the first innings) and have bowled their opponents out for under 200 in the side's second innings. We know Sri Lanka have got some truly special batsmen in their ranks. Dilshan is dangerous once he's got his eye in, Jayawardene can be like a limpet and when Sangakkara's in form, you don't want to be on the end of it.

The squad has been announced and contrary to what some people anticipated, Eoin Morgan was selected instead of Ravi Bopara. I like Ravi, but that's because I'm an Essex fan. Not many other people seem to and suggest that he is a good county player but once in the headlights of a high(ish) quality international cricket/under pressure, he thinks too much and loses his 'swagger'.

Bopara turned down the IPL because he was so determined to get back in the good books of the England selectors that he didn't want to jeopardise any opportunity he had by heading over to a circus in India. Instead, he has scored a couple of centuries for Essex, one to lead Essex to their first victory of the season over Glamorgan (morgan!) and the other in a match saving innings against Derbyshire. These are two of the ten innings he has had in county cricket. He's made a couple of starts, but the rest have been in the single figures/low teens. He could not stop the Essex top order crumbling to Darren Stevens on the opening day of the county season (nor could Alastair Cook, we were 53-6 at the close of play. Horrible, horrible viewing). In the Lions match, Morgan scored 193 in the first innings and built a huge partnership with Samit Patel, whilst Bopara scored only 17.

Bopara batting against Kent on the first day of the County Championship back in April
But form is not the only thing that should be considered. Eoin Morgan played Test cricket last summer whilst Bopara was trying to help Essex stay in Divison One of the County Championship. Morgan went to Australia this winter, meanwhile Bopara was playing cricket in South Africa. Even though Morgan went to the IPL, the fact he was a part of the Ashes squad tells you how much he is in the England's selectors thoughts. Morgan is an exciting talent, his innovation could prove handy when England are looking for quick runs lower down the order. He also seems to have a good, cool head on his shoulders, but has so far yet to show how to deal with one of England's "tricky situations". However, with Collingwood gone, England's strongest contender for a part-time bowler is Kevin Pietersen (not Trott. Never Trott) and whilst I don't think we should play 5 bowlers, Bopara may well have been a handy option to bowl some medium pacers before the new ball. 

Having said all this, whilst it's probably a personal and psychological blow to Bopara, it's a blessing in disguise for Essex. Yes, it would be great to have two Essex players representing England, but the reality is that now Cook is ODI captain, we're going to be seeing a lot less of him. With Bopara not playing for England in the Tests (I hope that he's in the ODI squad, because he has shown he can be a good player in that format in the past), it's crucial to have someone with his experience and batting ability in the Essex line up. It's also important that he tries to score runs as many runs as possible, to keep him in the selector's minds, just in case Morgan or even Bell get injured.

The bowling attack was a far easier thing to select. With the announcement that Tim Bresnan was injured, it was just a question of who would be called into the squad and be the likely drinks carrier now that Broad is back and the others have had a break. Again a Middlesex player, in the form of Steven Finn this time. Finn had a mixed Ashes series. On the one hand, he took a 6fer. On the other, this 6fer was for 125 runs off about 30-odd overs. When England are trying to build up the pressure, it doesn't help if there's someone who leaks runs at the other end. But Finn, at 22, is relatively young and whilst it'll annoy Middlesex fans that they've lost him, he can be used as a replacement should any of Broad's niggles flare up again.

What do I expect on Thursday then? I'm not sure what the pitch is going to be like, but I'm looking forward to seeing (hearing) Mendis in action. Sri Lanka haven't got Vaas any more and haven't selected Malinga with his crazy bowling action, but if their pace attack can settle into English conditions, then they could be a handful. However, Strauss has scored a big century against them and got another one the other day against Glamorgan. Cook's hoping to continue where he left off in Australia and Trott's probably looking to do the same as well. All the media eyes will probably be on England's number four, that of Kevin Pietersen, for numerous reasons regarding captaincy, form and pretty much everything from whether his heart's not in it to whether he's going to run off with Piers Morgan.

Unlike my winter escapades, it's likely that I'm only going to see a couple of days of Test cricket this summer. I won't even be able to watch a full day of cricket until at least July, because I have exams to revise for in mid-June and will basically be relying on TMS and Cricinfo again, plus Channel Five/ECB highlights, but this time at a far more reasonable hour. I'll probably try and start off a Twitter chorus of Barmy Army songs at some point on Thursday, so feel free to join in with that. All together now: And did those feet... 

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