England aim for clean sweep against Sri Lanka - Third Test Preview
Third Test - England v Sri Lanka at Lord's
9th June, 11:00 local | 10:00 GMT
For a cricket lover, Test cricket at Lord’s is about as good as it gets but the lead up to the final match of the series has been muted. The reason? A so far underwhelming series, already won by England, which has done little to fire the imagination of the public in England.
On the surface then, there is little to play for but try telling that to Steven Finn and Nick Compton, two England players in need of a performance of note at Lord’s to cement their places in the side for the second series of the summer against Pakistan.
That may be harsh on Finn but such are the demands of Test cricket that consistency is king. He was England’s best bowler in the opening two Tests of the victory in South Africa but was knocked off course by an injury which ruled him out of the T20 World Cup.
He has looked down on pace so far in this series and has taken only four wickets but England are likely to stick by a cricketer of rare ability. Nottinghamshire’s Jake Ball will have to wait for his Test debut.
It is not hyperbole to say that Finn’s Middlesex teammate Compton must make at least a half-century in this Test to save his international career. The selectors have rightly shown faith in him but one half-century from six Test matches since his return to the team in South Africa is not enough to yet convince he is the missing link in England’s line-up.
England’s top order more generally has been wasteful against a modest Sri Lankan attack. None of the top six have made a hundred and worries still persist about the solidity of England’s batting.
Joe Root has spoken this week of England’s recognition of their hundred problem which will hopefully translate into fewer injudicious shots than have been seen in the first two games.
James Vince has looked the part but has not capitalised on a couple of decent starts and Alastair Cook has perhaps been distracted by reaching 10,000 Test match runs. Both could do with a score or two this week.
These struggles are all relative of course. How Sri Lanka would love to have a class Test match batsman like Root in their line-up. After their embarrassing capitulation in the first Test, the tourists did at least show greater fight up at England’s northern-most Test venue.
Their second innings total of 475, containing an excellent hundred by Dinesh Chandimal, should at least provide some confidence for the Lord’s Test. Kusal Perera may return from a six-month absence to resume a career that started with two half-centuries in his debut Test against India.
In December, Perera was alleged to have taken a banned substance but he has now been acquitted after many tests and much time spent proving his innocence.
The conditions will also be more to Perera and his teammates’ liking with sun and blue skies forecast for the whole game and a flat wicket in the offing.
While it should comfort Sri Lanka’s batsmen, the bowlers may be dreading what’s about to come. The pitch shouldn’t offer much for their seamers and it should be tough going for a strike force decimated by injuries.
Two bowlers have already left the tour and to add insult to those injuries, Shaminda Eranga’s action has been reported after the last Test. He is free to play at Lord’s whilst the normal process is worked through but he may be withdrawn until the matter is settled.
Chaminda Bandara, a left-arm quick, may make his Test debut if that happens but Sri Lanka’s fast bowling stocks are not rich enough to be able to cope with such issues. If ever there was a time to be an English batsman, it will be this week at Lord’s.
Rangana Herath’s left-arm spin will likely find some turn later in the game and England’s Moeen Ali should also get through more work if Sri Lanka’s batsmen show the same application they did in the second innings in Durham.
James Anderson, with 18 wickets, has been the standout bowler on show from either side but may find things trickier without the overcast conditions and favourable pitches seen so far in this series. Not that a man with 451 Test wickets to his name cannot find other ways to get batsmen out of course.
Chris Woakes - England’s quickest bowler according to Cook - fared well in Durham after replacing the injured Ben Stokes, picking up five wickets in the match though he still has to convince he can remove Test batsmen on flat pitches when conditions don’t suit. Lord’s will be another opportunity to further assess his credentials.
England still have the same questions to answer they had at the start of the series. Can they nail down a solid, productive batting line-up and who is next in line to take up the mantle from Anderson and Stuart Broad?
They are winning with plenty to spare, never a bad thing, but with tougher tests to come, they need to start finding some answers. There’s plenty to play for at Lord’s this week then.
© Cricket World 2016