Sri Lanka in England 2014 June 10, 2014

New England emerge from rubble

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

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 ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Soy on June 16, 2014, 2:16 GMT

    @nursery_ender - I have yes. And I also know where he was born.

    Accents are learned aspects, birthplace is a fact.

    Interesting that is the only thing you could find to rebut.

    Where are your spinners? Why is Plunkett playing? Why can't Cook make more than 30?

    Pleased to see Zimbabwe's Ballance get some runs for you though, I rate him highly.

    Good to see Cook also doing his utmost to not chase the win, he's learned a lot from the hiding in Australia. The one that ended the careers of your 3 best players.

    I do like Ali and have nothing but respect for Broad. Jordan tries hard but I don't think he'll make it in Test cricket, Plunkett is not an international cricketer.

    WHERE ARE YOUR SPINNERS? You proclaimed about depth for so long, where are they?

  • Rahul on June 12, 2014, 9:06 GMT

    England will go in to these tests as favorites. Not due to superior XI but due to lack of Malinga and Murali in Sri Lankan camp. The success of Lanka has been built on the mercurial talents of Mahela, Sangga and Murali in test matches. At the moment they simply doesnt posses the bowlers to take 20 English wickets. Having said that England should not go on a joy ride and hail the new era if they succeed against Lanka. It will certainly prove futile if they come up against the likes of AUS or SAF at home or away. Cook has to improve drastically on his captaincy and man management skills. Broad will have to stay fit for the test match schedules and Eng must find a quality spinner. It is not possible to replace Swann but Moin seems to be a weak choice and seem to have made the selection on his batting ability plus his skills at bowling Doosra which is untested at International level. On the other hand if Eng loose it will spell disaster for Cook as skipper.

  • Tom on June 12, 2014, 8:17 GMT

    Posted by SoyQuearns on (June 11, 2014, 23:40 GMT)

    Still amusing to see that their brightest stars (Stokes and Robson) are from NZ and Australia respectively. Very English.

    Have you heard Stokes's accent?

  • Tom on June 12, 2014, 8:14 GMT

    Posted by RohanMarkJay on (June 11, 2014, 20:14 GMT) Sam Robson another Aussie gutted that he couldn't get into the Australian side, moves to the other side of the world to try his luck of playing international cricket with England.

    What twaddle. Can you tell me the last 18 year old to have been picked for Australia before having played any State cricket? Because that was Robson's situation when he chose to play his professional cricket in a country he's been a citizen of since birth.

  • Brendan on June 12, 2014, 7:09 GMT

    We must remember Joe Root and Gary Ballance are still there and can score runs

  • Kanchana on June 12, 2014, 2:32 GMT

    No chance 4 England without KP. SriLanka r going to win easily.

  • ESPN on June 12, 2014, 2:00 GMT

    its suprising to see that people are saying that the english batsmen can gain confisence by facing the toothless bowling of sri lanka and india. Things have changed, india has the likes of varun aaron, umesh yadav and other young fast bowlers who can bowl 140 and sri lanka has shaminda eranga, dammika prasad bowling at 140 and can bowl it at the ribs and has the swing and experience of nuwan kulasekara! Just remember it was only johnson that bowled @ 150 down under, harris and siddle were similar in pace to the lankan and indian bowlers!

  • rob on June 12, 2014, 0:52 GMT

    I might be an Aussie but I'm quite interested in this series. I don't really care who wins, I'm more intrigued with how England copes with a team full of newbies.

    Unless one or two of the new guys hit the ground running so much responsibility rests with Cook, Bell and possibly Prior to get a decent score on the board. Cook in particular must be under immense pressure at the moment but he strikes me as the sort of person who won't let that worry him too much. That's one advantage of being laid back I guess.

    I think England definitely has the edge in the bowling. Raw pace isn't every thing but it certainly helps. It seems to me that Englands bowlers are faster and better suited to the conditions.

    Overall, this should be a fascinating but too short series. There should be a third Test to break the 1-1 deadlock we'll have at the end of it.

  • Soy on June 11, 2014, 23:40 GMT

    Dear oh dear, if England don't win this series (and by a big margin) then that is basically a loss.

    Sri Lanka are average away from home and England's fans have been talking a big game about depth and talent for years now.

    Still amusing to see that their brightest stars (Stokes and Robson) are from NZ and Australia respectively. Very English.

    That said, they have actual 0 spinners worthy of note, and their last one fled the scene with a near 30 average, revealing to all that he was never the bowler we were all told he was.

    England's style of play, for years and years now, has been boring and grindy. And now they can't even succeed in boring people out of the game as they simply aren't good enough.

    Couple of people on here rightly pointed out that you win tests by scoring runs quickly. So true. Steve Waugh's champion side (an actual, real champion side) scored at 4+ an over throughout their 10 year reign and laid waste to everyone.

    Cook is a terrible, defensive leader

  • Nicholas on June 11, 2014, 21:06 GMT

    Attritional, steady-as-you-go cricket is almost always needed here in U.K. because there's a lot of movement through the air and off the pitch, so it's not really the style of play or pace of England's scoring that bugs me in tests. The attacking mindset of the Australians has not worked against decent swing bowling for example. What I hope to see from England is players back in form, and Root back down in the middle where he belongs and should never have been moved from. Looking forward to seeing how the new-look bowling unit operates too!

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