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July 8, 2011
Saturday, July 9, Old Trafford
Start time 10:45am (0945 GMT)
It is not often that after four desperately one-sided games you can head into a final match all square. But that's exactly how Sri Lanka and England have ended up in this curious one-day series.
Despite the agonising over personnel, balance, batting orders, and plenty else, it has been conditions that have dictated this series. Given a surface with movement for the quicks and some clouds to help - as we saw at The Oval and Trent Bridge - England can overturn most sides. When the sun comes out and a pitch stays flat, however, they can barely even compete.
Unsurprisingly England made no secret of wanting to harness home advantage but Old Trafford may not serve up what Andy Flower and Alastair Cook demand. It is the first international match at the ground since the pitch was rotated 90 degrees and what was once the best strip in the country has now lost much of its pace and bounce.
Sri Lanka would have noted with some interest that Lancashire have been playing a spin-heavy attack in Twenty20 cricket this season. If forecasts prove right and the sun shines over Manchester, the tourists must start as favourites. Though they are without Suranga Lakmal, it is their spin duo of Suraj Randiv and Jeevan Mendis who, alongside Lasith Malinga, will be their biggest theat.
In his debut series as full-time captain Cook had many doubters to win over and his riposte could not have been more emphatic than his unbeaten 75-ball 95 to seal victory at Trent Bridge. Unlike his century in a losing cause the game before this innings suggested Cook had the resources to set the pace his team needs to follow. Cook admitted he couldn't remember "hitting the ball so sweetly", but he may have been equally right if he added he'd not faced bowling as accommodating.
It was an innings and victory that helped settle the grumblings after two heavy defeats but it is only on a surface less tailor-made for their team that England's progress can be gauged. Old Trafford may not provide the track Cook wants but it will be the test he and his team needs.
Form guide (most recent first)
Sri Lanka LWWLL
In the spotlight
Tillakaratne Dilshan launched his England tour with three hundreds in four games, but a fractured thumb at Lord's - courtesy Chris Tremlett - disrupted his rhythm and since returning to the side for the one-dayers he has scraped together just 13 runs in four innings. Sri Lanka have managed to do more than simply keep the series alive without his regular contributions at the top of the order, but the pressure will surely be more keenly felt in Saturday's decider and the stage could well be set for a Dilshan special.
Stuart Broad broke a four-match wicket drought with two scalps at Trent Bridge, but they were hardly prestigious wickets - Suraj Randiv gloving down the leg side and Jeevan Mendis top-edging an uppercut - and he is still struggling back to his best. He's been publicly backed by his captain, but Tim Bresnan's return from injury and England's current surfeit of talented quicks means this may well be his last chance to nail down his place ahead of India's arrival.
"I think it's important we've stayed unchanged [in the series], it shows we've got faith in our cricketers," Alastair Cook said after England's series-levelling win at Trent Bridge, but there were reports late on Friday that Stuart Broad wouldn't play due to a bruised heel. That could mean a call-up for Samit Patel and the Old Trafford wicket has been noticeably favourable to the spinners in recent domestic Twenty20 matches. Steven Finn is another option.
England (possible) 1 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 2 Alastair Cook (capt), 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Ian Bell, 7 Samit Patel 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Jade Dernbach.
Sri Lanka may have more cause for tinkering than their hosts. They may well lose their leading wicket-taker Suranga Lakmal, who has picked up a side strain, with Dhammika Prasad and Thisara Perera the two most likely replacements. Given the conditions, Ajantha Mendis could also come into the equation. It's also quite possible that Thilina Kandamby, despite being vice-captain, could be dropped after contributing just 36 runs in his last three innings and looking unfit for the demands of limited-overs cricket. If that's the case, opening batsman Dimuth Karunaratne could be in line for an international debut, and if he slots in to the opening position Dilshan will be bumped down to No. 3.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Dimuth Karunaratne, 2 Mahela Jayawardene, 3 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Jeevan Mendis, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Dhammika Prasad, 10 Suraj Randiv, 11 Lasith Malinga.
Pitch and conditions
This will be Old Trafford's first international since the square was rotated to prevent problems caused by the setting sun in autumn as part of ambitious redevelopment plans. No relaying has taken place, the new wickets being basically made up of the old ones, and it's said to have lost a lot of the pace it used to have. Recent scores in domestic Twenty20s have been low - Derbyshire were restricted to just 81 for 8 here last week - and taking pace off the ball could be key. Manchester was dank and grey on Friday but Saturday is expected to be warmer, with sunny intervals and a high of 20.
Stats and trivia
"We've got a final. We fought back well at Trent Bridge and I'm excited to be able to beat Sri Lanka over a five-match series."
Alastair Cook is keen to seize his chance for a second series win as England one-day captain
Sahil Dutta and Liam Brickhill are assistant editors at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sahil Dutta
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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