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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.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Sri Lankan Lions The True Gladiators

If you, like me, enjoy supporting the underdog, the Sri Lankan Lions present a veritable feast. They play a fiery brand of cricket and refuse to roll over and die. True gladiators this bunch.

The CB Series final down-under has been a feast of elegance, spirit and skill. Undoubtedly the two best teams made the final, and what a three match final it is turning about to be. One game a-piece and all to play for in Melbourne.

The Aussies have had an absolutely brilliant summer, drubbing the Indian tourists consistently. The rub of the green, resurgent and new talents, it's been fun all the way really for Aussie cricket. Michael "Pup" Clarke mentioned world domination more than once, as I recall from press reports.

And then came Mahela and his brigade.

Leading from the front, elegantly using his golf drives and deft nudges at the top of the order, the Lions aren't struggling any more. Dilshan has struck the purple patch of his life after being relieved of captaincy and Prince Sanga is creaming the bowlers with his own special brand of south-paw elegance.

The youngsters are not far behind, with Chandimal and Thirimanne showing a clear glimpse of the future of Sri Lankan cricket. The all-round talents of Kulasekara have surfaced, finally, too.

The Aussies look fallible. Something that escaped our imagination when they were mauling the Indians a few weeks ago. Warner and Hussey have looked brilliant with the bat, but suddenly the Aussies are beatable. Overwhelmed by the purpose and application of their opposition.

A small island producing such amazing talent and leadership, a true credit to the sport. I grew up in the generation when Sri Lanka gained test status, and despite being the rookies back then, they demonstrated amazing depth, skill and talent. To Sri Lankan cricket followers of the new generation this may sound strange, but they can really be proud of the state of their cricket in their short history as a test playing nation.

I look forward to the big finale of the CB Series come Thursday night, as do a few million Sri Lankan and Aussie fans. If you are a betting person, don't bet against Sri Lanka unless the odds are really favourable. This team doesn't really know when they are beaten.

And, while we are on the subject, the Asia Cup will be a true feast for the cricket glutton. With a spirited Sri Lanka, a resurgent Pakistan, and India on the rebuild, it promises many a sleepless night.

Enjoy the final on Thursday!

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