Sri Lanka look to build momentum against England
It has taken just two matches for Alastair Cook to experience the full spectrum of emotions England one-day captains are routinely subjected to. A near-perfect performance at The Oval was followed by a shoddy one at Headingley, where Sri Lanka outgunned the home side in every department.
It has taken just two matches for Alastair Cook to experience the full spectrum of emotions England one-day captains are routinely subjected to. A near-perfect performance at The Oval was followed by a shoddy one at Headingley, where Sri Lanka outgunned the home side in every department. It seems difficult to remember - especially after their World Cup showing - that England were actually making significant progress as an ODI side last year. After their Champions Trophy eureka-moment in autumn 2009, when they decided to shelve the caution that left them out of step with the modern game, they won five series in a row.
Though Cook is looking for a similar consistency, the brazen approach that underpinned England's success then won't always deliver. At The Oval, once rain reduced the game to 32-overs a side, England happily blazed away to good effect. Set 310 at Headingley they again had little choice but to attack, but the approach was much less successful as the heart of the top order - Craig Kieswetter, Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan - was dismissed looking for boundaries. Yet keeping the faith in the 'fearless cricket' that all the players promise is England's best hope of building on last year's progress.
Sri Lanka have no such worries. As a limited-overs side they are completely clear on how to approach both setting and chasing totals. They possess two of the classiest batsmen in the world in Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara as well as two fine strokemakers in Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews. Conditions at Headingley suited them perfectly (as those at The Oval did England) and their batsmen left England's bowlers looking toothless before their spin attack left England's batsmen looking clueless.
The two one-sided matches have meant that, in keeping with the stuttering international summer, the series is yet to kick into life. Lord's is the ideal setting to change that. The weather is set fair, the pitch will be flat and a sellout crowd will lend an atmosphere that the series has lacked so far. Sri Lanka have little reason to deviate from the team that brought the 69-run Headingley win but England will be tempted to make changes. Graeme Swann was their best bowler in the last game and Cook may want a second slow-bowling option in Samit Patel. Jonathan Trott came in for familiar criticism for clogging up the middle overs with dot balls but, despite his 39 from 54, his record - averaging 53.68 from 27 games - is outstanding.
Form guide (most recent first)
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There are plenty of wise judges who don't see Alastair Cook as the long-term answer to England's one-day captaincy. Yet his record in charge suggests he can meet this challenge like he has all others in his career so far. In the five matches he's led the side he's made 209 runs at 41.80 striking, crucially, at 92 runs per 100 balls. That's a major step up from a record of 30.52 at 68 when back in the ranks. Lord's is a favourite venue for Cook in Tests and if he can transfer that success into the 50-over format England will have a much better hope of victory.
For most of this summer Sri Lanka have been without one of their brightest talents. Angelo Mathews missed the Test series recovering from a leg injury but returned for the Twenty20 in Bristol. It was at Headingley, though, where Sri Lanka fans were shown just what they missed. His 30-ball 46 helped Sri Lanka ambush 97 runs from their final 10 overs and left England needing to surpass their highest-ever successful run-chase to win the game. As promising, was the first sign of his bowling, which, however ginger, was the first time he'd bowled since the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in March.
England's line-up looks top-heavy with orthodox top-order batsmen so to squeeze a second spinner - in Samit Patel - into the side may demand a difficult decision to drop one of the big guns. However, Stuart Broad's ropey form can only be tolerated for so long and Cook may feel better off without him.
England (probable) 1 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 2 Alastair Cook (capt), 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Ian Bell/Samit Patel, 7 Tim Bresnan, 8 Graeme Swann, 9 Stuart Broad/Samit Patel, 10 James Anderson, 11 Jade Dernbach.
Sri Lanka are likely to stick with the combination that brought them victory, though - after not bowling or batting at Headingley - quite what vice-captain Thilina Kandamby's role is exactly is not clear.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt) 2 Mahela Jayawardene, 3 Dinesh Chandimal, 4 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 5 Thilina Kandamby, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Jeevan Mendis, 8 Nuwan Kulasekera, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Suraj Randiv, 11 Lasith Malinga.
Pitch and conditions
The weather has been the overriding factor all summer. Thankfully Lord's is set to look a picture with sunshine forecast for the whole day. The Test pitch earlier this summer held no terrors for the batsmen and while that made for an anodyne contest, a similar surface would suit the one-day format much better.