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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

England Have The Opportunity

The test match at Galle, between hosts Sri Lanka and the number one test team, England, is poised tantalisingly at the end of day three. England have the perfect opportunity, and the challenge, to prove that they are deserving holders of the test cricket crown. They can do so only by winning in the subcontinent.

The winter has been a big wake up call for England test cricket. Their domination of Sri Lanka and India during the English summer is already a fading memory. In the recent series against Pakistan played in the UAE, England fared miserably with the bat, getting white-washed by a resurgent opposition. To be fair, they completely reversed their performance in the limited overs format, with very positive batting and clinical bowling. It is this new found aggression in batting that England quite obviously walked in with at Galle.

The positive approach did not pay off in the first innings at Galle. Some premeditated shot selection and unforced errors handed the initiative to the hosts, who themselves have struggled with the bat in this match. Two exceptional performances, one from each Jayawardene, has got Sri Lanka with their nose ahead. English batting has certainly put Herath on a pedestal, though quite clearly the demon is in the mind. Anderson and Swann worked hard to pick the wickets, but once again the result depends upon English batsmen, and their mental battles.

The English batting skills are not in question, to my mind. There was some evidence of that in the assured partnership between Trott and Pieterson in the last session today. England finished the day at 111 for two, chasing a record 340 for victory.

Let's assess the English batting yet to come. I believe that Ian Bell's return to form is very timely. After a nightmare series against Pakistan, Bell showed his skills against the spin of Herath and Randiv with a dominant half century in the first outing. If England can avoid losing wickets in bunches, an cobble a partnership involving Bell alongside Trott or Pietersen, it could prove to be the match defining one. Unfortunately, the opposite could be equally true. Sri Lanka want two key wickets to gain control, certainly Bell is one of them.

There is more. Prior is an accomplished test batsman, topped batting averages for England against Pakistan recently. His application to a situation has given England a match winning grip in many a test in the past few years. His presence at one end always is a comfort for England.

Patel is in his debut test, and did certainly look nervy going back to a well pitched up delivery in the first innings. He will be looking to make amends. Broad and Swann never give up and can certainly take the attack to the opposition and work themselves out of trouble if so required.

Records and stats notwithstanding, I think England are definitely in with a chance. Trott looked less than comfortable today but applied himself well during his stay at the crease. It will be about application and building partnerships, about keeping the demons at bay, one over, one session at a time.

The champs could be back tomorrow!

It is always compelling to watch a well contested test match. Nothing else comes close.
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