CHESTER-LE-STREET: Thursday’s success has earned Alaistair Cook’s men respite from the cycle of defeat that had defined them for much of the past six months. It is just one win, and that in a rain-hit match, but England have proved to themselves they can topple Sri Lanka, and importantly, to dominate the visitors’ bowling. The upcoming matches may determine whether the Oval victory was the first ray of sunshine in a resurgent summer, or as their last win against Sri Lanka had been: a brief moment of warmth before howling winds lash again.
Weather of the literal kind that threatens to shape Sunday’s encounter most. Rain is expected to arrive in the early afternoon, just as the first innings winds down. If a result is possible, dampness and cloud cover may suit England well. The hosts’ bowlers enjoyed the increased zip off the Oval surface after the second rain break, and are more capable of harnessing swing in colder climes in general. Sri Lanka’s death bowling fell apart in the first game, after it had carried them through the World T20, but there is enough experience in that attack to refocus and recover quickly. Encouragingly for Sri Lanka, Sachithra Senanayake’s variations were effective through the middle overs, and there’s plenty more where that came from, in Ajantha Mendis.
It is the batsmen who ought to be more concerned, after they failed to mount a competitive riposte, albeit to an imposing total. Several of them failed to cover for bounce when the bowlers hit the deck, and others struggled to combat the swing, early on. There have not been pervasive technical issues among the batsmen in recent years, but the England bowlers will be spurred to dig balls in, after Thursday’s evidence. One loss in 11 does not make Sri Lanka a poor team, however, and they will back themselves to adapt quickly, and go on to claim the series.
Having broken into England’s ranks with some good form, Gary Ballance’s aptitude for busy batting was evident in a 72-ball 64, which set England’s innings up on Thursday. Sri Lanka will have learned a little about him now, and would have a clearer plan on Sunday. If Ballance responds with more runs, he will further bolster his claim to a middle-order spot in the Tests.
Sri Lanka batsmen take time to mature. Almost no one averages 30 in ODIs before their 50th match, and fewer still regularly play match-winning innings. Dinesh Chandimal did both when he first arrived, but his recent struggles are well-documented. England have sought to bounce him out so far on tour, and they have done it with enough success to suggest they will stick with the plan. Sri Lanka will want to give Chandimal more time to settle, but with Ashan Priyanjan waiting in reserve, Chandimal will hope for a good score soon.
England are unlikely to tinker with a victorious combination. Sri Lanka will be tempted to bring in another spinner, but with cloud cover likely to be around, they may opt for four seamers again. Lahiru Thirimanne will likely stay as opener to allow Chandimal to remain in the side.
England: Alastair Cook (capt.), Ian Bell, Gary Ballance, Eoin Morgan, Joe Root, Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler (wk), Chris Jordan, James Tredwell, James Anderson, Harry Gurney.
Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews (capt.), Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Sachithra Senanayake, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal/Ajantha Mendis.
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