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by Krish Sripada Friday 21 November 2014
One of the most consistent teams at the World Cup in the last three editions meets One-Day International cricket’s greatest underachievers in a seven-match series.
The conditions will be "continents" away from what the two teams will face in the World Cup down under next year. Therefore, it is not ideal preparation, some would think. Nevertheless, both the sides battered in the recent past by the top-ranked ODI team, India, will need to get some confidence going before they can move on to bigger targets.
Sri Lanka, which was out of touch with their cricket, had a nightmarish tour of India, whitewashed 5-0 for the first time by the hosts. On the other hand, England lost 3-1 to India at home, after emphatically disposing off the tourists in the Test series.
Playing in sub-continental conditions, against a team that has made it to the finals of the last two World Cups and currently holds the T20 World Cup could work both ways for an England team whose chances have been almost written off.
The problems facing England and Sri Lanka as they look to get their combinations right for the 50-over World Cup are in stark contrast with each other. England’s squad has way too many openings, way too many vacancies, so close to the World Cup.
Although Alastair Cook would like to call it an opportunity, most opponents would see it as being under-prepared. Barring Jos Buttler and Joe Root, the team hardly has any stable contributors to boast of.
Sri Lanka v England
21st November: England beat Sri Lanka A by 55 runs (D/L)
23rd November: Sri Lanka A v England
26th November: 1st ODI, RPS, Colombo
29th November: 2nd ODI, RPS, Colombo
3rd December: 3rd ODI, Hambantota
7th December: 4th ODI, RPS, Colombo
10th December: 5th ODI, Pallekele
13th December: 6th ODI, Pallekele
16th December: 7th ODI, Pallekele
Eoin Morgan’s rant has garnered a lot of attention and that hasn’t made things any easy for the English team that is still trying to deal with Kevin Pietersen’s incisive autobiography.
The English team has some really good players, including Moeen Ali, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Morgan and Alex Hales. There is optimism surrounding the bowling that includes James Anderson, Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes, Chris Jordan and Steven Finn, still in comeback mode.
What the English side lacks though, is the firepower that can get them 300-plus totals consistently on good batting pitches. Apart from Hales and Buttler, they lack big hitters and it hasn’t helped that most English players are leagues behind T20 playing countries around the world.
James Tredwell is a steady, smart spinner but that is all that the team can boast of, unless one now wishes to add Moeen Ali to the all-rounder list. Nevertheless, the gaping issue of English cricket is their strategy, which without Root’s reinvention in the ODI format and the exploits of Morgan, Buttler and Bopara lower down the order, isn’t fit for the standards set by the world's best sides.
English ODI cricket reeks of conservatism which in most other countries, has been safely despatched beyond the boundaries by big-hitters.
Sri Lanka, the fourth-ranked ODI team, has a different set of problems. Once a formidable side, Sri Lanka looked pedestrian in a one-sided ODI series in conditions similar to their home. Barring the fifth ODI, where the Lankans had a sniff at victory, the Sri Lankans were dispatched to all parts and barely made an impression with the bat.
About the only silver lining for them is the form of their skipper Angelo Mathews, contributing consistently with the bat and the ball. A shrewd tactician, who will benefit from the guidance of Mahela Jayawardene, Angelo still needs support from his team to shrug off the battering Sri Lanka received.
The form of his seniors needs revisiting and barring Lahiru Thirimanne, none of the new breed of batsmen are stepping up to the challenge either. Sri Lanka’s biggest issue though is its opening pair and Kusal Perera hasn’t really done much to make them feel confident.
Tillakaratne Dilshan was showing signs of good form but if Sri lanka are to repeat their impressive showing at the World Cup, he along with Jayawardene have to do more to ease the burden off their young skipper’s able shoulders.
England ODI squad
Alastair Cook (captain), Moeen Ali, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler, Steven Finn, Harry Gurney, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Eoin Morgan, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Taylor, James Tredwell, Chris Woakes
Sri Lanka’s bowling, like England's, looks decent on paper but isn’t sorted to any degree of satisfaction. Thisara Perera is an all-rounder they will need in fine form, but he could at best be their third pacer.
Although Shaminda Eranga and Nuwan Kulasekara have had decent performances under their belt, they were ripped apart by Indian batsmen, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in particular. Spin, once Sri Lanka’s strength isn’t really quite up to the mark, with Ajantha Mendis getting a hiding on pitches where Indian spinners showed promise.
In many ways, the series is not so much about clashing with the opponent as it is about looking inwards. Both teams would do well to focus on their own flaws and plugging as many holes as possible.
Sri Lanka’s primary target is to repair their bruised ego with some confidence and a weak opposition playing in foreign conditions gives them a good chance to do it. An unhappy Mahela, wanting to open and an injury-scarred Sangakkara rested for the last two ODIs and seemingly unhappy about it, could be central to Sri Lanka’s plans at redemption.
England, from its perspective, will have another shot at it when they fly down under to play the tri-nation series against two top teams, India and Australia. Nevertheless, if they have to avoid a major embarrassment of sorts, the rebuilding has to start right now, one step at a time and seven ODIs is a good enough sample size to demonstrate if their critics have gotten it right or wrong.
© Cricket World 2014