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England's future was revealed as they took to the field against Sri Lanka and it proved as expected to be a mixed bag
June 13, 2014
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The second day at Lord's provided a picture of the future England face: the exciting parts and the potential problems.
There was a double hundred from Joe Root, England's first since the final Test of the 2011 season against India which signalled a drying up of the daddy hundreds. Then there was fun and frolics from the lower order as they batted without inhibition with England careering along at more five an over.
Then it was all eyes on the new shape of England's attack. With all due respect to James Anderson and Stuart Broad, two fine bowlers with 581 Test wickets between them, it was what followed them that provided most interest. There was a wicket in the first over of Chris Jordan's Test career and there was pace from Liam Plunkett.
With his third delivery, Jordan drew an outside edge from Dimuth Karunaratne which carried low to Matt Prior - a theme of the innings which was key to a the reprieve for Kaushal Silva. Jordan was afforded an eight-over opening spell by Alastair Cook and beat the outside edge enough, especially of Silva, to remark that a second scalp would not have flattered him. His first three overs went for 17, but the next five of the spell for just six runs.
Plunkett was a little more of a mixed bag in his first Test outing since 2007, such a gap that the nerves are unlikely to have been any less than Jordan's and may have been greater given that Jordan has recent experience of the limited-overs set-up.
His first ball was way down the leg side, but he also hit 89mph in his opening over and later touched 90. There were a couple of wides and he also ended up on his backside twice after bowling bouncers. But until a final, short spell, when he seemed bothered by a leg ailment, he was quick, and that is what Cook wants.
"Both of them were fantastic on a slow wicket," Prior said. "It was good seeing the speed guns in the high 80s and Pudsey [Plunkett] got into the 90s at one stage. It was real good pace. CJ showed really good control as well in a nice spell."
And then there was the reality. There was no Graeme Swann. There was no frontline spinner. A failure of forward planning meant they were plunged into the mire the moment that Swann announced his retirement in Melbourne. This weakness had become a reality for the first time. A warm, sunny day and a flat surface meant that the reality was pressing.
It is not that England do not have a spinner. There has, in fact, rarely been as much written and spoken about a new England spinner as there has been about Moeen Ali. Mostly that is because he has a doosra. And a little bit because he has a fantastic beard. But because of the greatness of who came before him the difference will be stark.
He was introduced to the bowling crease for the 24th over, up against Kumar Sangakkar, who knows a thing or two about playing spin. Half an hour earlier, shortly after Sangakkara had walked in, Swann had tweeted: "England should get Moeen on now to Sanga. He's vulnerable early on to off spin."
There was no dream start like Jordan but everything landed nicely for Moeen during a three-over spell from the Nursery End. There was nothing that will have the Sri Lankans overly worried about his further stints on Saturday, but Moeen can expect a decent workload to show his craft and, maybe, the doosra.
England were quickly looking for reverse swing, an art form they used frequently while Swann was in the side but as a complimentary skill to his own. Now it will be become even more important to England.
Something else that will be important - and it is not a new thing - is catching. England have become increasingly fallible in the slips and now have a new combination of Cook at first, Jordan at second (when he is not bowling) and Gary Ballance at third. One of the great advantages of a settled side is a settled slip cordon and England's state of flux has added to the catching problems.
There was a clear chance in the fourth over of the innings when Karunaratne's edge flew between Jordan and Ballance. Understandings will have to be formed, players will have to get to know each other's mannerisms. Karunaratne's life, while not overly costly in runs, meant England were denied an early dart at Sangakkara.
"We are very comfortable with our slip cordon," Prior said. "CJ is one of the best catchers I've ever seen - I'll put the mockers on him now - and he works hard. We know how important it is to take the chances and the half chances. On a wicket like this we have to be very close and sometimes the ball does flash through, but the reason we do all the hard work is so we do take that chance."
With a middle order that includes more than 22,000 Test runs between just two players, and on a surface that looks full of plenty more, England cannot afford to spurn opportunities that come along.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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