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Five years ago on their last visit to Lord's, Sri Lanka were inspired by the venue
June 2, 2011
Traditionally, Lord's has been a venue to inspire visiting sides, and five years ago on their last visit to the ground, that was undeniably the case for Sri Lanka. Faced with a towering defeat in the first match of the series, they batted two-and-a-half days to secure arguably the most improbable draw of the decade. Had they displayed even a fraction of that dedication in Cardiff on Monday, this series would also be tied at 0-0 after one Test, and the memories of that performance would be flooding back into the frame right now.
Alas, the events of that fateful afternoon have scotched any claims of parity that Sri Lanka might have been able to take from the first four days of the series. To be rolled over for 82 in 24.4 overs was a dereliction of duty, nothing less, from a batting line-up as talented and prolific as Sri Lanka's, and their captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan admitted that they had simply relaxed too soon on a day that looked, as late as 2pm, to be a washout.
To fight back from such humiliation is not unheard of - when Mike Atherton's England were routed for 46 in Trinidad in 1993-94, they responded with victory in Barbados one match later - but the size of Sri Lanka's challenge is not merely confined to the size of the bowlers lined up against them. Steven Finn's likely inclusion for James Anderson will complete the tallest pace trio in Test history, with Chris Tremlett and Stuart Broad already in situ, but they will almost certainly have scoreboard pressure to deal with as well.
England's insatiable appetite for runs is unlikely to be quenched on a ground where seven members of the top eight have scored 17 centuries between them in the past seven years. Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen both top the charts with four apiece, Ian Bell has three, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott both have two, while Matt Prior and Stuart Broad complete the set. Only Eoin Morgan has drawn a blank in his two visits to date, and it is only once in the past 18 Tests dating back to 2001 have England have failed to add another century to the dressing room honours board.
Mahela Jayawardene, with centuries on both of his previous appearances at Lord's in 2002 and 2006, has proved in the past that the riches need not be confined to the home dressing room. Nevertheless, with the quick turnaround between Tests, the chance to slot into such a familiar environment plays further into the hands of England's cricketers.
"I don't think any of us want to take our foot off the pedal now. We've got some early momentum in this series," said Strauss. "We've got to push on and keep challenging ourselves to get better and better. We know that Lord's generally is a good wicket. You've got to fight hard for your wickets and it's usually five days of very hard work if you want to win a Test match."
"It's dangerous to think you've got the momentum and can shove people's noses in it," added Strauss, recalling how his own team had been humiliated for 51 in Jamaica two years ago, but fought back to enjoy the better of the next Test in Antigua. "I don't think that's the way it works. I think if you've had a poor performance as a side you become doubly determined to prove you are better than what you displayed in the last Test. We can't assume anything against Sri Lanka, given the quality in their side."
Despite the final-day fragility of their batting, Sri Lanka's captain Tillakaratne Dilshan placed his faith in the same balance of six batsmen and five bowlers that held its own for much of the Cardiff Test, with the wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene once again inked in at No. 6 following his first-innings hundred. The bowling attack, however, looks set for an overhaul, with the extra pace of Chanaka Welegedara expected to be complemented by extra muscle of the fit-again Dilhara Fernando - at the expense of the second spinner, Ajantha Mendis, who looked a lost soul for much of England's innings.
That will leave Sri Lanka's spin options in the hands of the captain Dilshan and the specialist left-armer Rangana Herath, whose scalping of Pietersen at Cardiff has developed into one of the talking points of the tour. Pietersen's 19th such dismissal in 63 innings resulted in extra tuition against slow left-arm in the Lord's nets on Tuesday, and Dilshan recognised the psychological hold that his team-mate might be able to exert.
"He's got out in the last few innings to left-arm spinners, so it is an advantage, but I am not going to play one spinner for one particular player," said Dilshan. "At the moment he is bowling well, so he is the No. 1 option for me as a spinner. I can rotate other bowlers around him, especially with a lot of right-handers in the middle order. Whoever is bowling well will play in the next match. We can't control what is going to happen to Pietersen, we are just focussed on our gameplan and my bowlers."
Strauss was typically diplomatic on the subject of Pietersen, but did not try to pretend that his weakness was not a talking point. "It's a game of cat and mouse out there," he said. "Any weakness is exploited so you've got to close that up and stay a step or two ahead of the bowler. It's great that he's working o n it and I think he'll have a great summer for us. He's in a great place mentally, and he'll be determined to prove a point or two over the next couple of weeks.
"There is always one batsman under the microscope, but he's coming off the back of a successful Ashes series, and it's important that we keep backing him up, as we do all our players because that will reap dividends in the future. None of us can stick our heads in the sand and say we are infallible, we always need to improve, so it's great that his work ethic is as high as ever. He's been very bubbly around the dressing room, and a pleasure to have around, and he'll transfer that into runs."