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So, England can't play cricket in the Sub-Continent, still only one test series win in Sri-Lanka in their history. After a string of bent arm mystery spinners and seam picking Pakistani bowlers and bat all day Indians to face over the decades England have all but given up winning there, a 1-1 draw retaining their world number one spot but only just. They have not only lost confidence in playing spin (and for the ICC to do anything about the bent arm cheaters) but in themselves as the punishing heat and a dose or two of the trots have sent them into a downward spiral. The summer series against the disinterested West Indies cant come soon enough.
For me part of the problem this winter has been Graeme Swanns book that openly criticized current members of the team, calling KP 'not suitable captain material' and Nott's and England teammate Samit Patel all but a 'fat ba**ard'. I spoke to Samit's younger brother at a domestic preseason game about this and he said that it is an issue with his brother. When Swann was at Northant's he sided with a player who was bonking the other wicketkeeper's fiancé in the team and he was ostracized there too, he and Russell Warren on one side of the dressing room and the rest of the team on the other. This guy needs to control his trap.
Ticket prices were ramped up in Sri Lanka to help fill the empty coffers as Sri-Lankan cricket begins to fall apart. Five pound tickets went up to twenty-five pounds and they even charged England fans fro watching on from the old fort that offers a great view of the match. Some of the players went unpaid by their board for nearly four months and hardly anyone has been paid this year. This only brings back the specter of match-fixing and so one presumes a loan was made by the ICC to them to help them to get through the year. It was a good time to play Sri Lanka as there is no more Mulitheran and Malinga and the scars still run deep from a civil war with the Tamils that ripped the country in half in 2010, a disgusting war that seems to have been forgotten about by the rest of the world, far worse than Syria and Palestine by all accounts. Needless to say Boycott and Agnew were on strict orders not to mention it.
Sri Lanka's strength is home pitches and their batting, three of their first five averaging 50 and owning over 70 Test centuries between them. Sri Lanka holds the world record for the highest team score, 952-6' which was established against India in 1997.The highest partnership in Test cricket was also established by two Sri Lankan batsmen; Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara with 624 runs. Sri Lankan players also hold the highest partnership scores for the second (576), third (624), fourth (437), and sixth (351) wickets. Clearly the wickets are flat out there and Columbo, where nearly all of those records were set, the flat earth society headquarters, and shamelessly so. Sri Lankan cricket's mission is to hold all ten partnership records.
Bowling wise the all time test wicket taker with 800, Muralitheran, has retired and so their bowling is very light. Murali also owns the most 5 and 10 test wicket haul records. He also has the 5th best match figures for single and combined innings With Chaminda Vaas (355 wickets) retired to my beloved Northampton they have the weakest top tear test attack for me.
The First test @ Galle.....
-March 25th -29th-
England decided to go in with three spinners and two seamers on the beautiful Galle ground on a slow dry turner with Patel in for Finn and Monty in for Morgan. After Sri-Lanka wobbled on 15- 3 after deciding to bat the home town hero set about the bowlers, Mahela Jayawardene gliding and driving a big hundred on day one to save the day. This was his 30th test hundred and he now averages 75 on the Galle ground and sits 9th in the all time list of century makers, the highest ever Sri Lankan. Jamie Andersen was the best English bowler on day one with three more wickets as he sets his sights on Ian Botham's English test wicket haul of 383. Captain Andrew Strauss reached a top five record, pouching his 110th test out-field (non wicket-keeper) catch to go fourth in the England all-time list.
Most catches by England outfielder....
Ian Botham - 120 catches (102 Tests)
Colin Cowdrey - 120 catches (114)
Walter Hammond - 110 catches (85)
Andrew Strauss - 110 catches (93)
Day two and Sri Lanka were 318 all-out with Anderson claiming 5-72 and Patel taking 2-27 on his debut. Andersen moved to fifth in the all-time England wicket-taker list with 264. England's response with the bat was the same inept level as the Pakistan tour, 193 all-out. Pietersen again failed against spin and a rare duck for Cook, being 92-6 on a track like this rather pathetic, Herath 6-74. KP should have been dropped a long time ago and made to play the first three months for Surrey this season to get his mojo back. Now he is not the big star in English cricket his ego isn't prepared to work hard to get back his status. I suppose we can blame Swann for that too. Bells 52 (his 29th test half-century for England) was pleasing and that one innings adding up to more than he got in the whole of the United Arab Emirates tour against the Pakistani's. There were no bent arms or mystery spin or hotspot to deal with either and England now look scared of basic spin. Sri Lanka set about consolidating their 125 run lead on an increasingly spinning pitch but soon 72-5 as Swann got the ball ripping, closing the day on 85-5 with a 210 lead.
Top England wicket takers...
I T Botham 383
R G Willis 325
F S Trueman 307
D R Underwood 297
J A Andersen 264
England ground themselves back into the game taking regular wickets but a last wicket partnership of 47 the killer, a record for the ground for Sri Lanka, seeing the game move away from England and their fourth straight test defeat looking certain. 127-8 to 214 all-out wasn't great, P Jayewardene 61* guiding them to safety. Swann 6-82 was his best numbers for a while but England required a record 340 to win. England did retaliate before the close at 112-2 with Trott and Pietersen looking set to turn the game back England's way but that record is tough for a reason. Strauss continues to fail with the bat and now just one hundred in 48 innings. Pressure will be put on the 35-year-old to step down for Cook this summer.
It started well with Trott dropping anchor as England arrived at tea at 233-4 and the victory looked on. But this is England in the Sub-Continent and once the Prior -Trott partnership of 81 was broken after an unlucky dismissal for Prior it was game over. Trott's 112 impressed but Herath cleaned them up with 6-97 (12- 171) for 264 all-out and a 75 run victory. This was good stuff by the home team and bad by the away side, poor shots and the batting all over the place, changes inevitable. England first innings was again the key and if they don't beef up that first five then they will never beat India to get back that world number one ratting.
Second Test @ Columbo
-April 4th-8th -
Bresnan in and Monty out, Strauss and Flower scapegoating for the now fragile Panesar for recent defeats. My sources say Monty was distraught and asked to return home to Sussex immediately. The first five English batsmen that have caused all the problems remained unchanged for the winter.
Sri Lanka bought in all-rounder Mathews and batted first, but soon rocking at 30-3 as Andersen set about them. I thought it was brainless by Flower to play three spinners and just two seamers in the punishing heat last test and so proved the case here. These guys don't like tall bouncy bowlers. But that man M Jayawardene (105) launched the fight back with his 31st century with a partnership of 124 with Samaraweera (54) and 62 with Mathews (54) to take them to 216-4 on a wicket that averages 370 in tests. Samaraweera scored the two millionth Test run in the process. Alan Border hit the one millionth run in 1986 against India. But Swann battled back and got some turn with 4-75 and Sri Lanka restricted to 275 all out, a great effort by England in the conditions, Swann becoming the third highest wicket taking spinner for England behind Jim Laker (194) and Underwood (297).
Strauss and Cook had to fire now with a partnership and they did, 122 to be precise, fifties for both, Strauss's 61 taking some of the pressure of the captaincy talk. He does look past it now and at 35 it's about the right age to start thinking about handing over the reigns to Cook, who, no doubt, will also lose form with his new responsibility stripes. Trott (64) added 91 with Cook (94) as England took control, setting up Pietersen to finally return to form with an aggressive ton to bring up the 400, tunning up for the IPL, 151 the highest score by an 'Englishman' in Sri Lanka, beating fellow Saffer Robin Smiths 128. It also put him third in the all-time list of century scorers for England with 20, level with Cowdrey and Ken Barrington and two behind Wally Hammond and Geoffrey Boycott who have 22. Alistair Cook has 19. KP now has 29 international hundreds, passing Gouches 28 and so top spot for England. Kevins six sixes in the innings moves him right up in the clear the ropes table, now just four behind Botham and Tendulker, level top.
England decided to try and slog to 500 but tumbled away from 380-4 to 460 all out, Herath taking his third straight six wicket haul (6-133). A late in the day but bold declaration may have been wiser to nibble a couple out before the punishing sun went down, perhaps another sign of Strauss not being himself.
That man Jayewardene continued his impressive scoring to keep the Sri Lanka 2nd innings in tact and earned a lead of 33 at the close of day three. At 215-4 draw was coming into the equation but Swann nicked two out late on and England regained control. The three seamer and two spinner switch enables them to deal with the heat better. Monty would have done more damage than Patel though.
Day four proved to be the final one of this curtailed series as Swann cleaned them up for 278 with 6-106 and 10 in the match (10-181), Jayewardene out in the first over of the day to a ball that turned square. England didn't panic and smacked the 94 to win with Cook 49* and Pietersen 42* for the 8 wicket win. Its just shame there wasn't a third test in what was a fun ser4ies in the blistering heat.
England went into the series looking to keep their top spot and achieved that but the sporadic nature of the batting suggest problems to come. The cliques in the dressing room are showing and KP only does it when he is in the mood. Bell looks poor unless he has cricket under his belt and Strauss heading for the big handover of the captaincy to Cook in preparation for the India tour in October.
Bowling wise there have been no real problems for ages and so need for change. I felt Monty was poorly treated but that's for him to deal with.
The big test now will be back-to-back series with South Africa in England and that India tour, the two best teams in the world for me. I would like to see some new batting blood and maybe James Taylor of Nottinghamshire to join Cook as opener in the West Indies series. I also think Ravi Bopara still has lots t offer England.