THE Test series starts this week with England taking on Sri Lanka in Cardiff. With England bidding to become the best Test nation in the world, there is no better time to take on the Sri Lankans.
Since finishing as runners-up in the World Cup, there has been a certain amount of turmoil in the Lions’ camp. The captain has changed to the maverick that is Tillakaratne Dilshan, who has a chequered past but is a great player, but even he turned up late due to his desire to play one more game in the lucrative IPL.
The visitors also have a relatively toothless bowling attack with the retirements of Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga, their two most potent users of a cricket ball.
That’s not to say that they don’t have decent bowlers in their line up, but one has to wonder whether their only way of winning a game is to bat last. Mendis seems to have lost his magic a little – the fact that he barely moves it off straight could have something to do with that – and Fernando is far more orthodox an opening bowler than the idiosyncratic Malinga.
Other than that, they have a load of medium pacers, who might get it to nibble about in English/Welsh conditions, but they shouldn’t (I emphasise “shouldn’t”) be a problem to international quality players.
I get the impression that they have other things on their mind, what with an interim coach in Stuart Law, a new and seemingly temporary captain and players who would rather earn money in the IPL than play for their country.
The Sri Lankan Board even tried to force people to play for the national team, which I’m sure sped up Malinga’s retirement. Their display against the England Lions was initially not the greatest but they managed to win by 38 runs, so I suppose it could be a more competitive contest than it originally appeared.
As far as England are concerned, it’s a familiar looking squad. Eoin Morgan has replaced Paul Collingwood after the latter’s retirement from Test cricket, edging Essex’s Ravi Bopara out due to scoring a big hundred against the Sri Lankans at Derby.
Steven Finn has earned a place despite a mixed game for England’s second string, and the guy who should be a little disappointed would be Surrey’s Jade Dernbach, who took nine wickets in the game compared to Finn’s three.
Finn did not have a good Ashes tour, taking a few wickets but being very expensive. Why not give Dernbach a try? In fact, Finn is likely to be the one who misses out from the 12-man squad as England persist with their four bowlers policy as I suspect that the attack will contain James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett and Graeme Swann.
Kevin Pietersen comes back and one has to feel that he’s under a certain amount of pressure. There’s no denying that he’s (critics would say “was”) a great player, but will need to score some big runs soon as he’s getting picked based upon past glories, and there can be little room for sentiment in top-class sport as the Australians have recently found out.
This three-match series could be a decent marker as to how well equipped England are to become world number one at Test cricket – only time will tell.
This week has also seen the retirement of the greatest spinner of a generation, Shane Warne. The guy was/is a genius with a ball in his hand, and no-one will ever forget his first (Test match) ball in England when he cleaned up Mike Gatting.
He may not have got the wickets that Murali got but the guy was on another level and an entertainer, inspiring young bowlers to try leg-spin all around the world – you don’t see as many trying to emulate Murali.
Warne’s retirement had to happen, but the sport will miss a player of his character and talent immensely.