Wednesday, June 15, 2011

England vs Sri Lanka: 3rd Test Preview

Before I begin, here's the BBC weather forecast for the first four days in Southampton:
Having been to the Rose Bowl for the rain soaked Twenty20 Finals Day last season (I don't want to talk about  it) and having gone down to the third day at Cardiff, if you're planning on making a trip to Southampton, I would recommend taking a brolly, a coat and hoping that you're sat near some nice people, because rain delays can get pretty tedious. Especially if they play the same Wallace and Gromit npower advert. There's only so much of Wallace's yelps you can take...

Anyway, that's off the pitch. Time to focus on the on the pitch matters. With the draw at Lord's, it means that Sri Lanka's collapse at Cardiff still proves the difference between the two sides. England are 1-0 up and, should they get the chance in what appears to be another match destined for the treatment of the British summer, will probably settle for a draw here as well. I know they're pushing for number one spot in the world and I would love them to push for a 2-0 victory, but it's a matter of wait and see really. The Sri Lankan bowlers might actually perform well.

During the break between the Test match at Lord's and the one starting tomorrow, Sri Lanka had a match against Essex down at Chelmsford. Essex played a mixture of youth and experience, with Ravi Bopara acting as captain. Essex's three main pace bowlers of Topley, Mills and Chambers had an average age of 19. Sri Lanka scored 337-9 and declared in their first innings, after a mammoth partnership between Thirimanne and Sangakkara. Both of these players scored centuries, perhaps annoyingly in the case of Sangakkara, as it's the type of innings he's presumably been searching for ever since he set foot on the English shores. Having said this, I don't know how he played, as I've seen no footage and am a long way away from Essex. Paranavitana scored 27 and the reserve wicketkeeper, Chandimal, reached 16. The rest, single figures. And this is the problem for Sri Lanka. In reply to England's score in the first innings at Lord's, they were well set and buoyed up by a fantastic 193 from Dilshan. But once he and Jayawardene were gone, there was not much else. Prasanna Jayawardene scored a century at Cardiff and the others can perform on their day, but they still managed to finish their innings 7 runs behind England, when they looked set for a lead.

Their bowling got a work out down at Chelmsford too. They started well and, like down at Lord's, they had three of the top four back in the hutch and, if they put on pressure, could surely bowl Essex out for a small total. They didn't. Tom Westley and Ryan ten Doeschate came together and, like Sangakkara and Thirimanna, put on almost 200 runs. Young Tom Westley was out for 99 and Ryan ten Doeschate scored 164. One Sri Lankan bowler, Randiv, managed to get a hat-trick. He bowled RtD, then got Topley and the first class debutant, Craddock. But even this hat-trick was not enough to stop Sri Lanka conceding a first innings lead. Essex finished on 351 all out and it got worse for Sri Lanka as they found Reece Topley in blitzing mode. Rain, unfortunately, caught up with the match, but Sri Lanka's score when the rain caused the end of the match did not make happy reading.

Dilshan has been ruled out of the third Test, so Sangakkara comes back as captain, having resigned the role after the World Cup final. One of the big three is down, so Paranavitana and the others will have to dig deep and play well (not that Jayawardene and Sangakkara have really done much, but now I've said that, they'll both go and get double centuries or something). For England, there is happier news. James Anderson comes back having missed the Lord's Test with a side strain (the plasters are coming off!). This leads to the question of which of the big men to drop out of Broad and Finn.

Both have been expensive. Finn has taken some wickets, Broad hasn't really until he's gone for 100 runs. Broad has the batting, Finn, if we're honest, doesn't really. I would assume England will drop Finn for Anderson, because someone's got to make way for the guy who's been England's spearhead and was severely missed in London. But, and I'm just speculating, when Tim Bresnan is fit again (and should he be firing) and if Chris Tremlett keeps up his hostility and decent enough lines, I would wager that Broad's place will be under a lot more pressure if he continues his run of form. I know he needs to play cricket and he's had his injury problems, but Bresnan had a cracker in Australia and, before he got injured, was in the wickets for Yorkshire. Like I said, purely speculating, but the squad for the Indian Test series will be one to watch out for.

Now, to England's batting. I needn't bother saying anything about Cook, Trott or Ian Bell. They're all in outrageously good form. Pietersen got a decent enough score last match, although he would've loved a century. He was bowled by an absolute beauty from Herath. Morgan and Prior are OK. They batted well together in the first innings, Prior scoring a ton and Morgan getting a score in the 70s. The major concern, however, is Andrew Strauss. So far, he's scored 20, 4 and 0. He got himself all in a muddle against Welegedara last match, and normally he does well at Lord's so to fail twice wasn't great for him. With Zaheer Khan coming though, the papers are already gearing up for their next witch hunt. Strauss struggled against Amir and Riaz last summer (most of his dismissals in the Test series against Pakistan were against one of these two) and he got out to Doug Bollinger at Adelaide during the Ashes (Mitchell Johnson? No chance.) What would be brilliant, for him and for England fans, is if he got a century, because he's not scored one since Brisbane. Failing that, even a half-century, because when Strauss is in and playing well, he can play beautifully.

My guess for this Test is that it'll be a rain affected and damp affair, where you'll probably see replays of numerous Test matches between England and Sri Lanka, or maybe even the Ashes. I'll be listening to TMS rambling on about cakes, perhaps having an interesting debate here and there and then Geoffrey Boycott comes on, I get annoyed and end up throwing a ball at my wall like I'm in The Great Escape. It would be a shame for the Rose Bowl if this is the case because, even though it's in the arse end of nowhere in Southampton, it's a great ground and deserves a chance in the future to host another Test. But hey, the forecast could be wrong and we could get a nice, hotly contested, five day Test match. 

Alternatively, welcome to the British summer. 

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