Bruised Englishmen up against Lankan spin test

Against a well balanced attack, England have their task cut out

Bruised Englishmen up against Lankan spin test

Up against high-flying Sri Lanka in their Group B opener of the Champions Trophy, Andrew Strauss’ men will need to play above themselves if they are not to be left playing catch-up early in the competition. Even with the mercurial Pietersen and the talismanic Flintoff in their ranks, England have surprisingly seldom fired as a one-day unit, notwithstanding the amount of limited-overs cricket they play domestically.

Strauss therefore faces the unenviable task of rousing his troops for battle against a Sri Lankan outfit gradually shaping up into a consistent all-season, all-conditions one-day combination. England’s problems have stemmed from a lack of aggression at the top, though the recent arrival of Joe Denly throws up exciting possibilities. The likes of Ravi Bopara, Owais Shah and Strauss himself have fired in fits and starts, perforce necessitating the versatile Paul Collingwood to play well within himself in a holding middle-order role.

Against a beautifully balanced Sri Lankan attack, England’s batsmen will have their work cut out. There is swing, control and pace up front, and quality spin as the game wears on in the shape of Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan. If anything, the dilemma in the Sri Lankan camp is whether to stick with the mix that crushed South Africa on Tuesday, or play horses for courses in deference to the conditions.

Wednesday’s Pakistan-West Indies game at the Wanderers threw up a pitch ideally suited to the quicker bowlers. Sri Lanka must decide if they want to play both their spinners or bring in left-arm quick Thilan Thushara to supplement Nuwan Kulasekara and Lasith Malinga.

If the choice has to be between Mendis and Muralitharan, it will be no easy call to make. Murali has had outstanding success against England in the past, while Mendis showed against South Africa just how dangerous he can be against teams that have never encountered him before.

“Everyone will have their own individual game plan against him,” said Strauss of Mendis. “He requires us to think pretty quick on our feet, it’s a new challenge.” Sri Lankan coach Trevor Bayliss, meanwhile, fired a salvo of his own, observing, “Mendis will prove skiddy, as he often does. Television footage counts for nothing. Picking his deliveries and hitting them are entirely different.” Interesting day ahead, surely!

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