I wasn’t sure whether to write something vaguely incisive about the build up to the First Test or just to post a picture of some puddles and the weather forecast for the upcoming game, in what has quickly become a farce of a tour. I mentioned in ODI review that holding a Test series in the middle of monsoon season was just about as stupid a thing one can do, unless the players and fans particularly enjoying sight seeing in the wet.
If by some miraculous occurrence, the weather does clear up for long enough to hold the game, then one must think England will be at a serious disadvantage. In the past, when teams were actually committed to winning a Test away from home, they would organise at least 3 tour games of sufficient length to try and get their batsmen and bowlers acclimatized to the foreign conditions. This has long since been dumped in favour of shorter tours, combined of more ODI cricket and then the odd 2 or 3 day match to try and get the players somehow ready for the upcoming series and the media wonders why it is so difficult for teams to win away from home in this modern age. Unsuprisingly, the weather has played havoc with England’s warm up preparation with a 50 over knock about on a flat, unresponsive pitch hardly likely to replicate the conditions they will face in Galle, should there be any cricket held there this week. I’m not surprised that Sri Lanka didn’t prepare a rank turner for England’s warm up games, just as I am never surprised that England don’t hold warm up matches on green seamers whilst preparing one for the first Test. This should be something that the ICC actively looks at if they want to keep Test cricket at the forefront of the game and stop it from being a procession of home Test victories; however I’m not going to hold my breath, based on what the ICC and the other governing boards have done in the past.
As for the team itself, for a change it is quite hard to predict what team England will actually go for, especially in light to the injury to Jonny Bairstow whilst playing football in a warm up for one of the ODI series. Now there are many ways a player can get injured on the cricket pitch, so actually losing one of your best players in a warm up during a football knock about is unforgiveable; if Bairstow misses more than just the First Test, then serious questions need to be answered by the English coaching team. I would imagine that Burns will rightfully get a go at the top of the order after a fantastic county campaign last season alongside Keaton Jennings, who is incredibly fortunate to be included on the tour. Jennings has built a reputation as a good player of spin, though that could be heavily weighted on his century in India a couple of years ago, and without doubt if he fails again in this series, a place on the scrapheap with England’s other tried and failed openers from the last 5 years await. As for the rest of the line up, then aside from Root batting at 4, your guess is a good as mine! We’ve had speculation that Buttler will bat at 3, or that it will be Moeen, or that it could be Denly – in other words, no-one has any sort of a clue as to how the English batting line up is going look. Personally I’d have Denly at 3 and Moeen at 5, but then personally I would have had the best player of spin that England currently has at the moment on the tour and in the line up! Whatever James Hildreth has done to upset the English selectors is beyond me, perhaps Mike Selvey has marked his card sometime ago! One would also imagine that the no matter how much rain falls between now and the beginning of the game, that the Galle pitch will be conducive to spin bowling; hence I would guess that England will line up with Anderson, Stokes and one of Broad, Woakes or Curran with the latter probably earmarked for the role due to his batting. As for the spinners, then it will be down to Moeen, Leach and Mike Selvey’s favourite bowler, Adil Rashid, to take the majority of the wickets once the ball stops doing anything for the seamers after 4 over or so.
Sri Lanka, will start the series as hot favourites in my opinion whatever the bookies think, especially if they can reproduce their performances against South Africa earlier in the year, where the decimated the Proteas by 278 and 199 runs in the two Test series. Sri Lanka’s array of spin bowlers befuddled the South African batting line at every turn and we can expect a heavy reliance on this again in this series. As a side note, Galle will be the last Test in his career for Rangana Herath, who despite his portly appearance and lack of a ‘magic ball’ has had a tremendous career at International level, especially on the sub-continent and someone Sri Lanka will miss massively. Herath may not spin the ball prodigiously but the control and accuracy that he has displayed throughout his career has meant that the opposing batsman has not been able to lose concentration for one minute when he is bowling. England will be very grateful to see the back of Herath after Galle. As for the Sri Lankan batting, they will once again lean heavily on Dimuth Karunaratne, who had his breakthrough series against South Africa alongside Angelo Matthew (provided he hasn’t been dropped) and Dinesh Chandimal, who are the backbone of the Sri Lankan batting unit.
The toss will be incredibly important to win and England must hope that Joe Root has his lucky shirt on, as England face a tough enough prospect to win this series, let alone batting 4th on a raging turner. This of course could be rendered completely irrelevant if the forecast stays true and hence, the fans have the pleasure of staring at puddles on the pitch rather than any live cricket. Perhaps they’ll be kind enough to beam the AB De Villiers masterclass into the stadium should the weather forecast prove right.
As ever, all thoughts on the game are welcome below: