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Fresh faces must be complemented by a fresh ethos as England seek to maintain their early season record at home and repair the damage of winter
June 10, 2014
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It can take years to build a consistently successful team, but just months for it to be broken apart.
The last time Lord's staged a Test it ended in the final over of added time on the fourth day, when Graeme Swann turned one to beat James Pattinson's outside edge, trapping him lbw. England were 2-0 up and were on the brink of their third successive Ashes series triumph.
Now Swann is six months into retirement and the Ashes have been back with Australia for the same period of time. England have a new coaching team, no senior spinner, a wicketkeeper recalled with a dodgy Achilles and a battle to remain in the public conscious as the World Cup kicks off in Brazil, although the timezone in South America at least means those who have watched the Test match on Saturday can then find a late-night bar in time for the 11pm kick-off against Italy.
England's limited-overs teams have not begun the task of repairing the damage of the winter at all convincingly, with T20 and ODI defeats against Sri Lanka which were a reminder, if any was needed, that much like the economy the recovery is likely to be slow with bumps along the way.
Now it is the turn of the Test team, and of the three formats it is the side that has undergone the most significant reconstruction.
From England's previous Test at Sydney, there will be just five survivors who appear at Lord's on Thursday and there will be three debutants - Sam Robson, Moeen Ali and Chris Jordan - plus the likelihood of a player resuming his Test career after a gap of seven years. Some would have liked to have seen a fourth new cap in Jos Buttler, but Matt Prior has earned a recall based on his past deeds for England, after a forgettable 12 months, and a desire to strengthen a reduced group of senior players.
Wholesale revolutions are rarely successful in sports teams, so England's 'new look' is probably about as radical as it was ever going to be. The introduction of pace in the form of Liam Plunkett and Jordan, so long as it is well directed, is one of the eye-catching elements, while Moeen could be significant on a number of levels.
There is certainly a sense that England want to try and rattle the Sri Lankans. That was likely to be the plan before what happened in the one-day international at Edgbaston and the lingering resentment over the Mankading of Buttler has only added to that.
However, they would be wise not to get distracted from finding the outside edge. England's success at Lord's is invariably from a fuller length as James Anderson's record shows (61 wickets at 26.09), as does Stuart Broad's spell against New Zealand last year.
|England have an impressive record in the first home series of a season since the Test programme was split. They have not lost a series and in 36 Tests have won 26, drawn eight and lost just two|
But it is the overall style of the Test cricket that England play this season that will be watched with interest. It has been accepted that their methods became a little turgid and predictable, both with bat and ball. While the wins were still coming there was no impetus to change but now their model has been broken so there is the chance to try a fresh approach. The absence of Swann, their banker for wickets and control in a variety of conditions, pretty much demands a new way of playing.
That does not mean blazing away with abandon - 250 all out in 50 overs will not win many Tests - but it means showing the confidence to not allow opposition to settle. Alastair Cook has a key role to play as batsman and captain; as the former he has not had a Test hundred in more than a year and desperately needs to return to the agenda-setting displays of 2011 and 2012. Then, in the field, he cannot let games drift, and should hunt wickets rather than be content to stem the run-rate.
It would be wrong to suggest he is clinging on to his job as captain because he has huge support from with the ECB, but if this summer does not show an improvement in Test cricket it cannot be said for sure that Cook will be the man to lead England in next year's Ashes. (The debates over the one-day side can be had somewhat separately.)
And it is not that this two-Test series fits into the 'gentle start' category. Beginning a month later than usual evens the scales, as does the warmer weather in London this week, which has enabled the Sri Lankans to shed a few of their layers. None of their bowlers has a Test average lower than Shaminda Eranga's 31.60, so England should be able to recover their batting confidence, but in a such a short series it only takes one collapse to nick the honours.
Sri Lanka also have a record of being stubborn opponents at Lord's (they have never played at Headingley, the venue for the second Test), drawing their last three outings in 2002, 2006, 2011. In 2002 they were able to enforce the follow-on after Marvan Atapattu, their current coach, and Mahela Jayawardene scored hundreds, a feat Jayawardene repeated in 2006 after Sri Lanka had followed on then batted 199 overs to save the game. In 2011 Tillakaratne Dilshan scored 193 to frustrate England who previously skittled them for 82 in Cardiff.
England, though, do have an impressive record in the first home series of a season since the Test programme was split in 2000, although the majority of those games will have been played in May. They have not lost a series and in the 36 Tests played in those series have won 26, drawn eight and lost just two. One of those was against Pakistan at Old Trafford in 2001 and the other against Sri Lanka, at Trent Bridge, when Muttiah Muralitharan worked his magic.
Victory in this series will not confirm that England's rebuilding is successfully underway, but anything less would have to classed as another failure - and after months of poor results and the recriminations, that is something they can ill afford.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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