Sri Lanka in England 2011 May 24, 2011

Law braced for 'toughest deal on planet'


Stuart Law, Sri Lanka's interim coach, believes that England's Test cricketers currently pose the "toughest deal on the planet", but insists that his players have the expertise and character to put up a strong fight when the first Test in Cardiff gets underway on Thursday.

Despite being considered outsiders in English early-season conditions, Sri Lanka enter the series full of confidence after a pair of impressive victories in their warm-up matches against Middlesex at Uxbridge and England Lions at Derby, where they overcame the follow-on to win a thrilling contest by 38 runs on the final day.

They have since suffered a major setback with the news that Nuwan Pradeep, their matchwinner at Derby with 4 for 29 on the final day, is set to fly home with a knee ligament injury. However, Law was confident that his squad was sufficiently well rounded, even in the absence of the retired Muttiah Muralitharan, to pose a challenge to England's strong batting line-up.

"It seems everyone else isn't confident in our bowling, but we've played four different seamers [in the warm-ups] and won both games," he said. "Our seamers run in and hit the seam, and in England conditions that's always a bonus. Our spinners do a lot of work for Sri Lanka, and yes we haven't got Murali, but we've got good spin. Given the right conditions and the right attitude, and if they are consistent enough, yes they can take 20 wickets."

Sri Lanka will be further buoyed by the memory of their last meeting with England, in the World Cup quarter-final in Colombo two months ago, when they romped to a ten-wicket victory with more than 10 overs to spare, thanks to centuries for Upul Tharanga and the new captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan. However, Law believed that in five-day cricket, England would pose an entirely different challenge.

"I've said it openly, in the last 18 months, I believe England are the best team in Test cricket," said Law. "They've beaten teams in their own backyard and away from home as well, they are well drilled, they leave nothing to chance, they prepare well. You can't complain with the way they are going, and as an Englishman you'd be very happy after the Ashes, which is one of the biggest contests on the planet. We know we've got our work cut out, but we've not come here to roll over and die. We've come here to fight."

Injuries aside, Sri Lanka have had a difficult build-up to the Test series. There was a change-over in leadership following the resignation of Kumar Sangakkara in the aftermath of their World Cup final defeat against India, and a clash of priorities which led to several of the squad, including Sangakkara and his fellow veteran Mahela Jayawardene, missing the early part of the tour to concentrate on the IPL in India.

In the circumstances, Sri Lanka have done remarkably well to make light of such difficulties, although Law - who himself is coaching in an interim capacity following the resignation of Trevor Bayliss - said that off-field problems were part and parcel of the country's cricket.

"If you understand what goes on in Sri Lanka cricket behind the scenes you'd be amazed how well these guys play," he said. "They do have to put up with extra pressures, but this tour is a magnificent opportunity for [some] young guns to come in, stick their hands up, and say 'I want to be here for 10 or 15 years and have a great career for Sri Lanka'."

Although Law admitted that his IPL latecomers, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, had looked a bit rusty during the match in Derby, he said he could sense a sharpening of focus during the squad's practice in Cardiff on Tuesday morning. "Looking at them today their mindset has completely changed," he said. "They are preparing for the first day of battle on Thursday. They are two quality individuals, two quality players, I'd expect they'd leave no stone unturned."

Although Sri Lanka's Derby victory showed that they are not afraid of grassy wickets, the Cardiff wicket is one that could well play into the hands of a team of strokemakers who know how to make the most of flat surfaces. Two years ago, Australia posted a mammoth 674 for 6 at the same venue, and on first inspection, the 2011 pitch looks to be similarly full of runs.

"The pitch looks a belter, completely different to the nets," said Law. "It's a true batting surface as they have been down here for a long time. In Test cricket you expect to see those sorts of pitches, and with all the weather around it might not change too much. And that's what I've been trying to tell our boys. In all conditions, never give in, because you never know what's round the corner.

"We're just preparing for them to be the toughest deal on the planet at this stage," he added. "We are not underestimating one facet of their game. People are saying that certain areas of their batting line-up can be exposed, we are not seeing it that way, we are just coming up with good plans for each batsman, rather than say we are targeting this guy or that guy. If we can sniff a result, we'll try to put our foot on their throat."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Muthuvel on May 26, 2011, 12:47 GMT

    ok just for records , i think it might be safe to say that Eng are the closest to second favorite team for many indian fans, so lets not have doubts on that and they are far better in world of sports obviously, but in cricket we are better.

  • Dummy4 on May 26, 2011, 9:53 GMT

    @sinhaya:dream lands and nothing else...practice games don't make any difference..infact, the host teams fields the worst team their

  • Shanmugam on May 25, 2011, 22:31 GMT

    @Valavan, good assessment there. It is really baffling that SL fans think Australia are a weak team when they haven't managed to win a single test there. SL are also yet to win a test match, leave alone a series, in India and SA. Both their wins in England were inspired by Murali. The one game that they dominated for 3 days without Murali in the recent past was the 2002 Lord's test thanks to their huge first innings courtesy centuries from Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene. They enforced the follow-on but England managed to secure the draw by scoring heavily in the 2nd innings. Without Murali and a mediocre pace attack, there is precious little to believe that SL will dominate the series especially in the early part of the English summer. With England boys in good form, I tip England to win the series easily. Watch out for Jonathan Trott. His appetite for runs is insatiable.

    @Yash Ranade, Jimmy is as good a bowler as Zaheer in English conditions.

  • Shanmugam on May 25, 2011, 22:25 GMT

    @Yash Ranade, India deserve their #1 ranking as they have managed to remain unbeaten in a home series for nearly 7 years and have also won away series in England, NZ and WI. They even managed to draw a series in SA for the first time and were unfortunate to lose the series in Australia in 2007-2008. However, I think there isn't much difference between the top 3 teams. If England beat SL and India, they become #1 (according to ICC). If SA beat Australia at home (which they will), then they may become #1. People tend to look down upon England's Ashes win in Australia citing that they are a poor team. There is some credibility to that argument but please don't forget that Australia at home are still a force and England just didn't scrape home for a win - they thrashed them in 3 tests by an innings! That takes some doing.

    My money is on an England win against both SL and India in England but if it goes the other way, that's fine too. May the better team win.

  • Dummy4 on May 25, 2011, 18:58 GMT

    @Shan156 It doesn't matter about which country fares how well in Soccer or other sports, this is talking cricket. I think most Indian fans would probably support England if India isn't playing. Especially against Australia, SA and Pak. Though now, with this No. 1 ranking thing, Indians are certainly perceiving England as a challenge. Come July, the debate will be sealed and shut. I would like to say either way, but I am obliged to say that it will obviously will be sealed in India's favour (2-0) with Zak and Bhajji saving a match with their batting.

  • Valavan on May 25, 2011, 16:47 GMT

    No words to comment here. Even WI won the practice games in 2004, still managed to loose. England lions just had 1 player from the 1st Test squad. Some unknown fast bowler bowled SL in England Lions. And England is not the weak link as SL think. England won test series in SL in 2001, but the last test series England managed to keep it to 0 - 1 despite SL home advantage. With Murali hanging his boots, SL must play very well. some guy saying about Aussie batting failure but they didnt watch COOK dominated the whole ashes. BTW how many tests did SL win in Australia to call Aussie as weak team. I think SL never ever drew a test back in Aussie, Law should know this fact. Swann is now no.1 test offbreak bowler with 3 other speedsters, if Dilhara will fail, the hidden truth is England will win it atleast 2 - 0.

  • Ramachandra on May 25, 2011, 15:27 GMT

    @Matthew Jackson: Think you got it spot on, mate. I am an Indian fan, but could not differ with you here!

  • Shanmugam on May 25, 2011, 15:10 GMT

    A lot of Indian fans here are trashing England because Law thinks that England are the best test team in the world at the moment. You guys should understand that a lot of us England fans don't think that way. We deserve our #3 ranking but aren't that much behind the top two teams. At the same time, it is Law's opinion and he is entitled to his as you and me are entitled to ours. What is the problem here?

    Also, if India is really that great, how come they have never won a test series in Australia or South Africa? With so much interest in cricket in that part of the world and with such a huge population and with no major internal problems (like Pakistan and SL face), it is only natural that they will do well in cricket. There is very little interest in the game of cricket in England. Soccer is the priority here and although we haven't won major tournaments, we are still among the top 10 teams in the world. Considering that soccer is universally popular, that is pretty good.

  • django on May 25, 2011, 14:59 GMT

    England at home are tough. I think their bowling has improved over the last 4 years. Facing Tremlett and Finn and Broad with the ball swinging is probably the hardest test attack in Cricket at the moment. If any of them get it right you can kiss the innings goodbye. The way the whole squad bowled in the ashes was really impressive. Indian attack is not even close, batting is a different story though.

  • Dummy4 on May 25, 2011, 13:35 GMT

    @Ramesh Dharshana Parera: Dude, dont react so viciously, just think with a cool mind that Law is an Aussie, and since England have beaten Australia in two consecutive ashes, it has to become the no. 1 team in the matter how they perform in other parts of the world :)

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