We’ve already written why Sri Lanka should not be underestimated, but talk of England's quest to become the number one Test side in the world shows no sign of abating.
Even Sri Lankan coach Stuart Law has been at it saying that over the last eighteen months “I believe England are the best team in Test cricket”. Whether he truly means that or if it is simply a case of Law getting his excuses in early awaits to be seen.
Certainly, we will know a lot more about how close England are to achieving their goal by the end of the summer given that current top ranked side India visit English shores for a four test series after Sri Lanka have departed.
India are yet to lose a series in eleven under the leadership of MS Dhoni, but England also have a long unbeaten run stretching back to the Caribbean in 2009 where the first series of the Strauss-Flower axis was lost. Since then the pair have overseen home and away wins over Australia and Bangladesh, as well as home victories over Pakistan and West Indies and a creditable drawn series in South Africa.
But India can wait for now as the series with Sri Lanka promises to be a tasty and intriguing hors d’oeuvre.
Now that the Morgan vs Bopara contest has been settled in favour of England’s adopted Irishman, the only question mark over England’s final XI is between Chris Tremlett and Steve Finn. In our view, it is the Surrey giant who should get the nod to build on his pivotal role in the last three Ashes Tests.
Things are not so clear with the Sri Lankan line-up. Nuwan Pradeep has gone home with injury and there is a doubt over Dilhara Fernando. Farveez Maharoof, who has been called into the squad from Lancashire will probably play.
Look out for…
As usual a lot of the focus in the build-up to the Test has been on Kevin Pietersen, with some in the media suggesting that he could be dropped for India if he fails to shine. Pietersen has said that he has got the bug back, so the RS expects him to build on a successful Ashes series where he averaged over 60 and hit that magnificent double hundred at Adelaide.
It will be interesting to see how Tillakaratne Dilshan fares as Sri Lanka’s new captain. He has made a good start with two wins and a hundred in each of the warm-up games. He has the experience of former captains Sangakkara and Jayawardene to call upon should he need it, but even so it will be a real test to see how he works with what is an inexperienced and largely unproven bowling attack.
Previously at Cardiff
This is only the second Test to be held at Sophia Gardens, and this Test will have to go a long way to match the finish of the inaugural Test in 2009 where Paul Collingwood, Monty Panesar and James Anderson memorably led England’s Great Escape against Australia.
Sri Lanka’s record in England is two wins, three draws and four defeats from nine matches, with both wins (The Oval 1998 and Trent Bridge 2006) being engineered by Muralitharan. How they fare without their spin genius, is just one of the many posers of what promises to be a fascinating series.
Kumar Sangakkara is criminally underrated despite a Test average of over 57. His stats are even more impressive when he doesn’t have the added burden of keeping wicket - a Bradmanesque 76.52 from 46 Tests sans gloves.
Since being rested from the tour of Bangladesh in early 2010, James Anderson has taken 56 wickets at 20.78 in 11 Tests. With a strong battery of quicks to call upon, expect rest and rotation to become a feature of England’s selection over the summer.
Earlier this week, we had a hunch that this could be Sri Lanka’s match, but with the pitch likely to favour the batsmen and rain forecast throughout the game, the draw seems the most likely result.
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