England vs. Sri-Lanka, 3rd Test – Preview

So we’re off to Lords tomorrow with England taking an 8-0 advantage in the Super Series there, so still absolutely everything to play for…said no cricket fan ever! In a grudging kind of way, you have to admire Strauss for managing to keep a completely straight face when he commented:

We believe this will enhance the international game over all formats, at a time when we all recognise the need to keep all forms of international cricket exciting, relevant and engaging for the public.”

“We have to recognise that the world of cricket is changing very quickly. We’ve seen some fantastic innovations recently such as the first ever day-night Test Match in Australia last year, and I see this as something similar for all formats – a way of keeping them all relevant. It’s part of our ongoing efforts to modernise the game of cricket.”

Unfortunately for the Director, English Cricket, most cricket fans or those with even half a brain know a turd when they see one and despite the ECB desperately trying to add a hefty whack of polish to it, I’m afraid that no-one has been taken in by this colossal heap of bullcrap. Perhaps it’s best for the Director, England Cricket to go back to what he knows best i.e. instructing your friends in the mainstream media to continue to write souped up hagiographies

Anyway onto the cricket itself and I’m not sure the majority of the country is amazingly enthused about the prospect of watching this final Test Match in what has been a low quality and underwhelming series. As I suspected, England have gone in again with the same eleven, which hopefully provides Steven Finn with a chance to find some form and rhythm in time for the rest of the summer’s cricket. It also nicely provides the MSM the chance to have one more potshot at Nick Compton before he is cast adrift from the National team and I’m sure the likes of Pringle, Selvey, Newman and Stocks have their pencils sharpened in the hope of writing his international obituary with the same glee that they have writing about what an inspirational leader Alastair Cook is! I’m still not quite sure what Compton has done to upset the MSM apart from not scoring that many runs and not being Joe Root, but it seems he has rubbed up the wrong people and that is basically that for him. I will eat my proverbial hat if he is picked for the first Test of the Pakistan series.

With Compton seemingly on the way out, social media and Sky has been awash with views around who is going to replace him at number 3. It has been mentioned that there is the possibility of Vince moving up to 3, Bairstow to 5 and Buttler to come in at 7, though I think that is highly unlikely considering that Vince hasn’t exactly been prolific in his first couple of Tests (despite Andy Flower’s assertions that he is the new Don Bradman) coupled with the fact Buttler hasn’t played any type of red ball cricket this summer and is unlikely to get much practice before Pakistan start their tour. As a result, many are casting around County Cricket for a potential replacement with Robson, Westley and Borthwick being the names that keep cropping up. Scott Borthwick for me is the most interesting name on the list and one cannot praise him highly enough for having the aptitude, work ethic and skill-set to turn himself from a bowling all rounder to a fixture at number 3 for Durham. Indeed he has had a fantastic season so far scoring three hundreds for Durham, including two in one match, in what is one of the hardest grounds to consistently score on in the County Championship. The fact that Borthwick had been so consistent in recent times, got me thinking why he hadn’t been mentioned before now and why the sudden clamour for his inclusion? One could rightly point out that it’s the number of runs he has churned out for his county this year or it could also be pointed out, if one was a little more cynical, that he has fairly recently been signed up by those lovable rogues, ISM! Perhaps I am being a little churlish and I actually do think Borthwick deserves a chance to showcase his skills on the international stage, especially with the bonus of his leg spin bowling and upcoming trips to Bangladesh and India, but it also does worry me the about seemingly large amount of power that this agency holds over our selectors. Perhaps I’m being paranoid about this, but then again perhaps I’m not (and Katy Scott’s – @ithilienorthend – excellent piece on the growth of ISM is worth a read – https://ashestourist.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/the-impact-of-ism/). Whatever the exact truth is, it seems clear that they have the ears of those in power and if I was an aspiring England cricketer, then being represented by Vaughan and the like would certainly be an interesting prospect. I’m awaiting the Ajmal Shahzad for England bandwagon to pick up over the summer with baited breath.

As for Sri Lanka and their chances of performing at Lords, I would suggest that their batting has a better chance of clicking as it did in the second innings at Durham, than their bowling does to cause England too many worries (especially as all of their first choice bowling attack are either injured or have been reported for dodgy actions). The main reason why I think the Sri Lankan batting attack is likely to fare better is that the Lords pitch is likely to be flatter than an England performance having won a series and judging by the state of the Lord’s pitch this year in county games, a high scoring draw is far more likely than any other result, a 3 day Test Match this won’t be. As I mentioned in my customer experience piece, Lords is the ECB’s cash cow, this is where they make their money, so why take the chance of a Sri Lankan collapse to put at risk guaranteed income from the ECB’s preferred type of fan? This isn’t those ghastly Tests up North (in the ECB’s eyes not mine) where fans refuse to spend £75 a ticket and to nicely line the ECB’s coffers by purchasing £85 lunch hampers, this is the real deal now and something that needs to be protected….

On a final note, I wonder if anyone else has tried to put themselves through the abject pain of watching the WI, Aus & SA tri-series in the West Indies? This surely has to be a lesson to all cricket administrators worldwide that playing meaningless series on substandard pitches and then trying to sell this to the paying public is an act of extreme folly. In fact, I would suggest that this has done more harm than good, with the pitches displaying variable bounce and extreme spin from the first over, this was not a spectacle that will live long in the memory. Sure, no-one wants to see 400 plays 400 in every game, but paying fans do want to see batsmen being able to get the ball off the square and a pitch that doesn’t resemble a Day 5 pitch in Chittagong – no wonder cricket uptake in the West Indies is massively on the wane…

Day 1 thoughts and comments below…