Thursday, 26 May 2011

England vs Sri Lanka

So, real cricket is back as England and Sri Lanka prepare to dust down the whites and get into Test action in Cardiff.

'Wait a minute', you're thinking, 'surely Fantasy Bob got over all that forecast and preview nonsense during the Ashes and the CWC.  We, his loyal handful of readers, have a right to expect a return to the safer ground of biscuits and lower league trivia.'  But FB invites his followers to recall that his CWC previews were widely acclaimed by the 3 people who read them as 'totally useless' , 'about as interesting as old underpants' and 'really helped me come to terms with the futility of my own existence'.  FB is too modest to have his head swollen by such adulation but he is sure that someone somewhere is calling out for his expert biscuit fuelled views of the coming contest.    So you're getting it whether you want it or not.

Cardiff seems an unlikely venue. Fantasy Bob still struggles to consider the Cardiff Arms Park a proper place for Test cricket, it is forever associated in his mind with Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennet.  Nor does he remember who Mr Swalec is that he should have a ground named after him.  Was he a Glamorgan opener just after the war? It doesn't seem like a traditional Welsh name.  Perhaps he is one of these Eastern European oligarchs?

Dilshan scooped the captaincy
But this match and series promise much.  Some interesting questions are posed.  Can England recover their Test mettle following the let down of the World Cup?  KP - is his selection justified?  What about Morgan - is he a suitable case for treatment?  How will Sri Lanka fare without the experience and wicket taking of Murali and Malinga?  Has Dilshan the patience to skipper?  What about the SL middle order - can it Tweet to Test match standard?  Has Imogen Thomas been near anyone in either team?  If England's batting fails will it be Nick Clegg's fault?  And so on.

FB wonders about pre-series psychology - do teams still pay any attention to this - or is Twittering more important?  It was long held that the Aussies were masters of this, trying to give the opposition a distorted view of their strengths and weaknesses so they get their battle plans wrong.  The Aussies would look weak and ill and ease in warm up games - batsmen would seem unsure which end of the bat to hold and bowlers would seem incapable of bowling anywhere near the stumps.  Then - first morning of first test and KERPOW! suddenly they spring to life.  The most celebrated example of this is Warnie; on his first visit to England and a couple of weeks before his ball of the century to Gatting,  Warne was blasted all round Worcester, 0 wickets for several zillion runs, giving the England camp a belief that he was an overrated chubby and posed no threat.  Well, tell that to the marines.  There were always suggestions that in early games the Aussies would let certain county batsmen score big against them to aid their chances of selection, knowing that they had them worked out.  Was this ever strategy or just enthusiastic reporting?  Nowadays players know each other so well and there are few matches preceding the Tests that there is less opportunity for this to happen.  Of course these days when the Aussies look weak and ill at ease it is because they are just that.  But you get the point

So whose psychology worked in the Lions game, which looks a good confidence booster for the visitors?  Have the naive Sri Lankan bowlers been conned into thinking they can bowl out English batsmen - they'll bound in all full of themselves, pitch it up and England's batters will blast it all over?  Are Dilshan and Paranavitana  now over confident having scored heavily - so much so that they'll just follow Anderson's outswinger and find what's what?  Or is it the reverse, Sri Lanka have played Morgan into the side because they know he lacks match practice and will seek the T20 route out?  FB has no idea of the answers to these questions.

Murali at the Oval 1998
The records all favour England - out of 10 tests between the countries in England, Sri Lanka have won only 2, in 1998 at the Oval in a one off Test and in 2006 at Trent Bridge to tie the 3 match series.  In the first match Murali took 16 for 220; in the second he took 11 for 132.  But the brilliance of their batting was evident too as they scored 591 at the Oval batting second with Jayasuriya 213 and de Silva 152.  At Trent Bridge it was a lower scoring game with no centuries on either side, but familiar names - Sangakkara,  Tharanga, Jayawardene and Dilshan made contributions.

Sri Lanka's bowling has been further weakened by the injury sustained by Nuwan Pradeep.  Pradeep put in a match winning performance against the Lions but injured himself treading on the ball - there are many ways to emulate McGrath but this isn't the best of them.  Veteran Fernando also went well against the Lions taking 6 wickets but finished the game limping like Long John Silver.  So they have to aim to bat for ever - something they are well capable of doing.

The new Collingwood
As for England, Morgan for Collingwood hardly seems a straight swap but it gives the England line up considerable fire power. It will be up to Trott or Bell to do the Collingwood back to the wall stuff if needed.  But it reduces the bowling options with no one able to fill in the few dead overs to give the main bowlers a rest - this puts pressure on the 4 man attack.  Cardiff is meant to be a featherbed so this might be a factor given the attrition rate on pace bowlers. But FB supposes the selectors know what they are doing. 

FB has to go with England for this match (weather permitting a finish) and for the series.  But he hopes for a keenly contested series which is decided by brilliant performances on one side or the other.  Let battle commence.

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