Lutters’ Sri Lankan lines

AT THE fifth time of asking this winter, the world’s number one Test playing nation has won a match, and by the skin of their teeth remain at the top of the table, just before meeting a poor West Indies side back home in Blighty.

The fly in the ointment could be the visit of the world number two side, South Africa, later in the summer, where a far sterner test will be offered.

Credit has to be given to England in the final Test in Colombo as they bossed it from ball one, against a Sri Lankan side with some excellent players, particularly in home fixtures.

The worry is that the win ratio was just 20 per cent over the winter, and that is not the mark of the best side in the world.

It’s not all been doom and gloom for Messrs Strauss and Flower, though, as the bowlers have performed brilliantly. James Anderson has looked every inch a world class bowler, particularly in Sri Lanka, but he bowled well against Pakistan without much luck. His new ball partner, Stuart Broad, also impressed but his seemingly endless list of injuries must be a worry to both him and the selectors.

Of the other seamers who played in both series’, only Chris Tremlett was disappointing, although he may well have been injured in his one game.

Tim Bresnan, England’s lucky charm (he’s won every Test match he’s played in) bowled well having come back from elbow surgery, and is useful with the old ball using a variety of cutters and slower balls on unforgiving pitches.

Steven Finn, arguably England’s quickest bowler, I felt was unlucky not to have played every Test match this winter having impressed in the one-day series in India. He just doesn’t pick up as many wickets as perhaps he deserves, but almost certainly sows doubt in the batsmen’s minds with his hostility and pace. The other seamer who should not be forgotten is Jonathan Trott, who showed that he’s capable of bowling some decent overs if required – a bowler after my own heart!

The spinners were pretty good, with Graeme Swann shining in Sri Lanka and Monty Panesar in the UAE. Had it not been for England’s batting, Panesar would probably have played more games.

The major factor against Monty is England’s insistence of only picking four out-and-out bowlers. Samit Patel made his debut in the Sri Lanka as a spinner, but mainly because he is useful with the bat. Patel will never win games for England with the ball, but didn’t disgrace himself with some tight stuff. If he wants a future in Test cricket he should concentrate on his batting.

England have been let down this winter by their batsmen, with some frankly embarrassing averages on show. Strauss is still in need of a big innings, but improving. Cook looked good in patches, but went into his shell at times when a more positive outlook may have brought more reward. The ever-reliable Trott was in fact not so reliable, but did bat well towards the end, with a terrific hundred in Galle.

Pietersen should have been on the verge of being dropped, but saved his winter with a superb game in Colombo, which set him up nicely for a lucrative stint in the IPL. Without Pietersen’s first innings “daddy” hundred, England would not have won the second Test against Sri Lanka, but we should not allow that to detract from his woeful form otherwise.

The same can’t be said for Ian Bell ,who has had the sort of winter batsmen have sleepless nights over. Bell is a class act with a large repertoire of shots, but his footwork has been wooden and the spinning pitches of the sub-continent have found him wanting. He will almost certainly score hatfuls of runs this summer though.

Eoin Morgan’s stock has dropped greatly this winter, so much so that he was dropped for the Sri Lankan leg of the tour. Morgan is a great limited overs player where there are fielding restrictions, but when it comes to Test cricket his quirky batting gets found out. There are better test players than him in England and I suspect that Test match appearances in the future will be few and far between, but I’m happy to be proved wrong.

Matt Prior has done well this winter both with the bat and the gloves and cemented his reputation as arguably the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world. He is also cycling the South Downs way to raise money for Chestnut Treehouse, so do search and donate if you can.

It’s worth saying at this point just how classy Mahela Jayawardene looked during the two-match series. If he could take that form on tour with him, he would surely be the world’s best batsman.

It is fair to say that Pakistan’s bowling attack is far better than Sri Lanka’s rather journeyman bunch, so England improvement in the final two Test matches should be seen with that in mind, but if England are to be a truly great side (and they have the potential to be) then they are going to have to conquer India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka on their own turf (or rolled mud judging by the pictures of sub-continental wickets that I’ve seen). England visit India next winter, and that really will be a test.

So roll on the summer and what should be a straight forward assignment against the West Indies, followed by an intriguing series against South Africa.