Northern challenge set to give Sri Lanka the shivers
May 27-31, 2016
Start time 11am local (1000 GMT)
It's grim up north. Especially if you are more used to hanging out in the tropics. Aside from some early success with the new ball at Headingley, Sri Lanka's two-and-a-half days in Yorkshire were miserable in the extreme - they were bundled out for 91 and 119 in the space of 433 deliveries all told, the second shortest batting effort in their Test history.
But sometimes you just have to doff your cap at the skills on display in such debacles, and with match figures of 10 for 45, James Anderson put to bed once and for all his curious distrust of Headingley's home comforts with a performance that few teams in the world could have lived with.
The worry for Sri Lanka, however, is that life is about to get even tougher, as they head to Chester-le-Street, the most northerly Test venue in the world, where the weather at present appears to be blowing in directly from the Arctic.
They head there with a depleted bowling attack, following the untimely injury that has curtailed the tour of their promising young quick, Dushmantha Chameera, and a demoralised set of batsmen - notwithstanding a battling rearguard from the 21-year-old Kusal Mendis, whose maiden Test half-century delayed the inevitable in the second innings.
Nothing is pre-ordained of course, and England travel with concerns of their own - not least the absence of the talismanic Ben Stokes, whose first Test appearance at his home ground in Durham should have been one of the major drawcards for a venue that has struggled to sell tickets for this fixture, and is thought to be preparing to host its sixth and final Test.
Instead, Stokes is laid up in rehab following an operation for a cartilage tear in his left knee, a devastating blow for a player who tried to play through the pain after sustaining the problem while bowling in the first Test. Chris Woakes, fresh from a career-best haul of 9 for 36 for Warwickshire, is primed to step in as England's designated allrounder - a first Test cap for the Nottinghamshire seamer Jake Ball must wait for another day.
There are battles within battles to be played out in the coming days as well, not least the one taking place in Nick Compton's mind. After a lean run of scores - 15, 26, 0, 19, 6 and 0 in his six most recent innings - Compton has admitted he is playing for his Test career. However, he'd do well to recall the circumstances of his most recent matchwinning effort - 85 and 49 on a dank seamer at Durban in December. Sri Lanka have rattled England's top-order once already on this trip, so it needn't be the last of the summer wine for Compo if he can channel once again that immoveable mindset.
Although both teams start back at 0 for 0, with expectations duly recalibrated, it is still hard to envisage anything but another thumping England Test victory - they've never yet failed to win in five previous appearances at Chester-le-Street, including an Ashes-sealing 74-run triumph on their last appearance in 2013, a match that Stuart Broad was recalling with glee on Twitter during the build-up.
And with good reason. Broad's match figures on that occasion were a not-insubstantial 11 for 121, including 6 for 50 in a thrilling victory surge on the fourth and final afternoon. And therein lies the rub for Sri Lanka. When a team as inexperienced as their post-Sanga-and-Mahela line-up is pitched against a new-ball pairing with 781 Test wickets between them, you sense it will take something truly extraordinary to upset the status quo.
England: WLWDW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LLLWW
In the spotlight
If you stuck their names in a limerick, it would be hard to tell them apart, but - on recent Test form at least - Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes make a better rhyming couplet than a like-for-like pair of England allrounders. Where the former has gone from strength to strength - literally, in the case of his muscular double-hundred at Newlands in January - Woakes has struggled to live up to expectations at the highest level, notwithstanding the extra yard of pace that most observers agree he has added to his bowling since making his debut in the 2013 Ashes. A Test best of 26 not out in six Tests, allied to eight wickets at 63.75, are not auspicious numbers, but this could be the opportunity he has been waiting for. Chester-le-Street is the sort of venue that favours his style of accurate, skilful seam and swing - think of Richard Johnson's 6 for 33 way back in 2003.
There's no two ways about it. If Sri Lanka are to have any realistic hope of competing in some of the most inclement conditions that they'll ever face in their Test careers, they will need their skipper to front up with the bat. Angelo Mathews was a qualified success in the Headingley Test - insofar as his first-innings 34 was the highest score of that innings by a distance, and it could have been even more had he chosen to refer his lbw decision that replays showed had struck him outside the line. But he was powerless to prevent their meltdown second-time around, and from the moment of his dismissal - at 93 for 3 after 23.2 overs, Sri Lanka lost their last seven wickets for 26 runs in the space of 12.1 overs. He has previous in England - his matchwinning 160 in the second Test two years ago belongs in national folklore - but turning this tour around will be an even greater challenge
In keeping with England's new, positive outlook towards everything from declarations to follow-ons, Alastair Cook once again confirmed his team a full 24 hours in advance of the toss. In comes Woakes for Stokes, with Ball missing out, and up a notch on the batting card go Jonny Bairstow, the Man of the Match at Headingley, and Moeen Ali - whose form as a designated No. 8 has been ropey in recent times. Both have been given extra responsibility at 6 and 7 respectively, with Woakes slotting in as a very handy No.8.
England 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Nick Compton, 4 Joe Root, 5 James Vince, 6 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Steven Finn, 11 James Anderson
Chameera's back injury opens the way for Suranga Lakmal's recall, but aside from that, Sri Lanka are unlikely to make wholesale changes, not least because those who played at Headingley are now that little bit more acquainted with the conditions. Nevertheless, Milinda Siriwardana could challenge Lahiru Thirimanne for a middle-order berth. Despite Thirimanne's experience on two previous tours, he has a grand total of 90 runs in eight previous Test innings in England, dating back to his debut at Southampton in June 2011.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Dimuth Karunaratne, 2 Kaushal Silva, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Lahiru Thirimanne / Milinda Siriwardana, 7 Dasun Shanaka, 8 Rangana Herath, 9 Shaminda Eranga, 10 Nuwan Pradeep 11 Suranga Lakmal
Pitch and conditions
Chester-le-Street, the fiefdom of Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth, is no place to be a visiting batsman - even those that are used to English conditions. Remarkably, when Durham won the County Championship in 2013, they conceded a solitary batting point (ie, one first-innings score in excess of 200) in eight home games. And that's just the conditions on the ground - throw in the misery overhead, and life gets even tougher. One local observer described the weather on the eve of the game as "minging". Although it is expected to clear up just enough for the first three days of the game, another rain-band is expected to sweep in on Monday. If Headingley is anything to go by, that salvation may be scheduled too late.
Stats and trivia
- Alastair Cook started the series needing 36 runs to become the 12th player - and first Englishman - to 10,000 in Tests. He still needs 20 more to get there, but he has a five-month cushion on Sachin Tendulkar, the previous youngest (at 31 years and ten months).
- Rangana Herath, who claimed two wickets in the first Test, needs one more to become the third Sri Lankan to 300 in Tests.
- Sri Lanka will be the fifth different team to play a Test at Chester-le-Street, after Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, West Indies (twice) and Australia. England have won three of their previous five matches by an innings.
"He's scored two hundreds already. So he can play at this level. Like all of us, he's only a score away, and he needs a score, but he's in a really good place to do that."
Alastair Cook gives Nick Compton a boost ahead of what may be a make-or-break Test
"That game was quite embarrassing. We have to flush it out of our system."
Angelo Mathews doesn't mince his words about the Headingley debacle.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket