EDGBASTON: England threatened to run away with the ODIs first, then Sri Lanka did. Then England did again. Somehow, the series has wound up at Edgbaston still needing to be decided. The result may pivot on which version of each team shows up. Will the Sri Lanka that played the first 35 overs at Lord’s outclass the hosts? Or will the England that gathered speed in the last 15 overs of that match, blow the visitors away? Will the Sri Lanka batting that fell apart for 67 surrender once more? Or will the bowlers that dismantled England for 99 three days prior reprise their menace?
If England win, they will have snapped a barren streak and Peter Moores’ regime will have some early validation. A Sri Lanka victory would extend their 2014 streak and they could regard big losses at The Oval and Manchester as aberrations. The latter result would also see the teams head into the Tests on more even terms, than if England walk away victors. Thanks to cloud cover and some moderately helpful surfaces, seam bowling has shaped the series to a large extent. In each match, the team that lost fewer than two wickets in the first 20 overs won, even if that security comes at the expense of the run rate.
Sri Lanka have had trouble finding Tillakaratne Dilshan’s opening partner but they have won both matches in which Dilshan has struck up hefty partnerships with Kumar Sangakkara. England have been similarly reliant on Ian Bell to resist the early movement generated by Nuwan Kulasekara and Lasith Malinga.
Overall, England’s pace attack appears the stronger one but Sri Lanka hold the edge through the middle overs and the death. If the visiting batsmen can survive the early bursts from James Anderson, Harry Gurney and Chris Jordan, they may tilt the game in their favour. England played Sachithra Senanayake better at Lord’s, but they had been unsteady against him earlier in the series (Senanayake has been reported for a suspect action, but it will not affect his availability for the final ODI). Lasith Malinga, meanwhile, has occasionally been expensive but showed at the death that his ability to rattle chases is undiminished.
In the spotlight Jordan has had the limelight in this series, but Harry Gurney has been almost as effective for England, delivering sprightly left-arm pace, adorned with a little movement off the seam. Crucially, he has been accurate early in the innings. Sri Lanka’s top three like early boundaries and, by denying them the length and width they desire, Gurney has kept them on edge, and played a major role in the collapses that have ensued. England’s players were all fit on the eve of the match, and the team is likely to be unchanged.
Sri Lanka drafted in Ashan Priyanjan to the lower middle-order in place of Thisara Perera but, following a valuable 43 in Durham, he has had two less impressive outings. Priyanjan will hope he can be in the mix when Sri Lanka look to firm up their combination for the World Cup and, given the competition for middle-order spots, he may need another good knock in England to announce he is ready for an extended stint in the playing XI.
Sri Lanka have tried two opening combinations in the series so far and, while they will be tempted to send Mahela Jayawardene up the order to partner Dilshan, Kusal Perera will probably keep his place atop the innings. They may also be minded to rest Senanayake, given the added pressure and scrutiny an impending biomechanical test can stir up, but will more likely play him, in order to suggest he has nothing to hide.
England: Alastair Cook (capt.), Ian Bell, Gary Ballance, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler (wk), Chris Jordan, James Tredwell, James Anderson, Harry Gurney.
Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kusal Perera, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews (capt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Nuwan Kulasekara, Sachithra Senanayake, Ajantha Mendis/Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga.
It is all very well to try and tell yourself captaining your country in an ICC Cricket World Cup is ...