LONDON: Eighty-one runs was the difference between the teams in the first match of the series. The margins have expanded alarmingly since, to 157 runs, then 10 wickets and 227 balls. They might not be numbers that suggest a compelling series, but Sri Lanka’s tilt at England has held interest, if only because of the unpredictability of the results. Sri Lanka arrived favourites at the first match, on the back of a Twenty20 international win and an unbeaten 2014 in ODIs, then faltered dramatically.
England appeared to hold the aces at an overcast Chester-le-Street, but were shot out for 99. Then the hosts outskittled the skittlers at Old Trafford, to almost everyone’s surprise. Even the weather forecasts have been way off base, with heavy rains failing to materialise in the second and third matches. Conditions have been no indicator of results. Sri Lanka have at various times seemed well-adjusted and at sea in the cold and the damp. Lord’s is expected to be rain-free and somewhat less chilly on Saturday (today), with temperatures expected to peak in the high teens.
Sri Lanka appear to be the more vulnerable side at present, but they have traditionally done well at the venue, and when the sun shines. One trend that will have been pored over by analyst and coaches in the Sri Lanka camp, is their batsmen’s frailty against Chris Jordan’s hit-the-deck pace. Jordan has not relied on great movement nor even a tight line and length. He has instead created trouble by generating good lift, and by having batsmen play too early or too late. His ambling approach to the crease explodes abruptly into an energetic delivery swing, and though many bowling coaches will see this as a flaw needing correction, it appears his pace has not been easy for Sri Lanka batsmen to judge. If Sri Lanka fail at Lord’s, they will have comfortably lost a series. It will mark the end of their remarkable 2014 run. England, meanwhile, will hope it begins their resurgence.
Jordan may be taking most wickets, but there is no doubting the influence James Anderson’s pinpoint opening spell exerted on the last match, when he claimed both openers and conceded only 10 runs from his seven overs. Skilful, probing and relentless, he is exactly the kind of fast bowler Sri Lanka’s batsmen don’t like. They failed in their plan to play him out safely in Manchester, and even if they alter their outlook for Lord’s, Anderson is not an easy bowler to gain control of.
Mahela Jayawardene was among those who attempted to bat slow and long in Manchester, but he changed so much about his normally free-flowing game, he tangled himself up against an innocuous James Tredwell offbreak. Tough situations often coax him to his best, and as he has set the 2015 World Cup as a target, a regular flow of good scores will serve his confidence well.
England will have learned little about their batsmen from the brief Manchester chase and will likely be unchanged. Angelo Mathews suggested Lahiru Thirimanne will be given a longer run at opener after the last match, but they may be tempted to bring in Kusal Perera into the side, displacing Thirimanne down the order. The visitors will hope to play two spinners, but have Thisara Perera in reserve if the conditions are more suited to quick bowling.
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.), Ashan Priyanjan, Nuwan Kulasekara, Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath/Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga.
It is all very well to try and tell yourself captaining your country in an ICC Cricket World Cup is ...