England vs. Sri Lanka – 2nd Test Preview

So, we have the 2nd test upon us and the major question (no, it’s not an Alastair Cook one) has to be whether Sri Lanka can actually be competitive in these conditions? As Dmitri covered in his report of the last Test, England performed well bowling wise in seam friendly conditions and had Bairstow and Hales to thank for propping up the batting, but Sri Lanka were embarrassing. They looked like a Division 2 county team who had never come across these conditions and I’m not exactly hopeful they’re going to be much better this Test.

I do really worry about the future of Sri Lankan cricket to be honest, what with a weak domestic game and a Board showing the same greed and incompetence as the WICB have displayed for years, things don’t exactly look rosy in their garden at the moment. I sincerely hope they can rouse themselves for Durham after the pasting they received at Headingley, but in my mind they only have 1 international class batsman in their squad in Angelo Matthews and their best and most promising bowler has gone home injured with a stress fracture. It’s going to be a big challenge to say the least and I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if we saw another 3 day Test match.

As for England, they’ve unsurprisingly been hailed as world beaters again, which is a tad hasty to say the least in my opinion; however that is always the way with the English MSM, after all we’ve got the next Mike Brearley leading us now. The one player however, who seems to have inadvertently pissed on Selvey’s, Stock’s and Pringle’s chips in a former life is poor Nick Compton, who seems to be at the centre of an unpleasant whispering campaign from the Media. Whatever you think of Compton the batsman, and I personally think he’s a decent player who was treated awfully when he first came into international cricket, I think this sort of Chinese whisper campaign is at best unhelpful and at worst is slanderous. Indeed after the first Test it was left to Farbrace to address some of these unsubstantiated rumours: 

“I have read all the stuff about Nick’s intense personality,” Farbrace said. “But I have yet to meet a batman at the top level who is not intense about the way they prepare. He is passionate to score runs for England and I think a couple of scores back to back and he will be off and running. I would say his state of mind has been very good.

“He is not a difficult bloke. He is an easy bloke to work with and he is passionate about scoring runs. He has everything you need from a top quality batter. 

“We felt in South Africa he showed enough to suggest he can score runs in international cricket. He did not necessarily cement his position but we showed him faith by picking him.”

This doesn’t exactly tie in with the moody and difficult individual with few friends that is currently being portrayed in the MSM at the moment, so is this idle gossip from the hacks or is someone with an agenda leaking sound bites to old friends? I don’t think you need two guesses as to what my thoughts on the matter are. It seems that ‘if you’re not one of us, you’re one of them’ an individual from the ‘wrong type of family’ and as a result, no matter how many runs Compton does or doesn’t score this summer, his card has already been marked by those in the realms of power. I’m sure the ECB will phone up ISM to find someone else whose face ‘better fits’.

As to the makeup of the England team, I don’t see any changes occurring with Woakes replacing Ben Stokes as the all-rounder. Chris Woakes is an interesting case as his county stats indicate that he should be an international class cricketer – averaging 35 with the bat and 25 with the ball, indeed he took a 9 wicket haul against Durham this week to remind us how potent he can be (he’s just lucky that he was playing in Division 1, as we know, only Cook’s performances count in Division 2). However it is fair to say that he has looked at best innocuous in the Test arena and at worst a bit lost. I’ve seen an argument that he shouldn’t be judged yet as he hasn’t had a true run in the side to find his feet (6 tests spaced over 3 years), and this is a fair point, but you would think that with Stokes’ injury and a Sri Lankan team looking all over the shop against seam and swing bowling, that he needs to start turning those County performances into something more substantial in the Test arena to avoid being tagged as a ‘county trundler’. I’d also be surprised if they replaced Finn with Ball, despite the former looking a bit out of sorts with the ball in the First Test and Lord Selvey’s divine protestations.

On a final note, it will be interesting to see how many spectators turn up for the 2nd Test. I really feel Durham have been sold a turd here, especially against a Sri Lankan side who hardly turned up at Headlingley and on the back of a 2nd consecutive game in the North East. I do have particular sympathies for Durham with this, they’ve got a great ground, passionate fans and good facilities (despite the sparse public transport) and have always maintained aspirations for hosting Test Match Cricket; however the madness of the ECB bidding system combined with their vision to have at least 9 venues able to host Test cricket means that Durham have had to fork out the princely sum of £950k for the privilege of hosting this Test. This makes no financial sense whatsoever, Durham are forced to raise ticket prices, people therefore don’t attend and all they are left with at the end is a costly bill for a loss making exercise, no wonder they have had to approach the ECB, cap in hand, asking for a loan. Durham have no more Test matches scheduled after this one according to the current future Test calendar and one may sensibly interject that this could be the last ever match they hold there, which would be a sad indictment of the ECB’s cash before fan mentality. Of course, the ECB could rejig the order of Tests, so the Oval doesn’t automatically get the last Test of the main series, we could also agree a rotation of Test Grounds over a 4 year period and even strip away one of the Lords games each summer to make it a fairer playing field for all concerned; however London is where the ECB makes their money and the turkey’s running it aren’t suddenly going to start voting for Christmas any time soon. Spreading the game to the masses is a ‘nice to have’, but in reality it’s the money stupid!

Anyway Day 1 comments below: