March 6, 2001

200 years on and England will face resistance again

Two hundred years ago Kandy was the bane of the British Empire. For 19 years the fiercely patriotic locals resisted the imperialist advance and retained their independence. England's cricketers can expect an equally tough fight over the next five days.

One down after the contentious First Test Match, England now face a moment of truth. In Pakistan and Galle their strong-mindedness and discipline would have had their imperialistic forbears nodding in puritanical approval. Now, however, resolute defence is not enough.

Captain Nasser Hussain admitted today that they faced their "toughest challenge in the last 12 months", but also reasoned, "if we do well here then it will also be our most significant victory.".

Nevertheless, he doesn't want his players to focus too much on the importance of this Test Match: "We cannot go out there tomorrow saying that we have to win the Test Match. I will be telling the players to do the basics right, to play it hard and keep there dignity and try to win a Test Match in the same way that we have won recently."

England will take heart from the performance of South Africa last year. Beaten black and blue by the withering blade of Jayasuriya and fooled by the sorcery of Muttiah Muralitharan in the First Test Match in Galle, it looked for the all the world like South Africa would be routed in Kandy too. However, in one of the great Test matches, they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and levelled the series.

Hussain would do well to watch the video. Yes, South Africa showed great resolve and patience, but there were also positive. Lance Klusener in the first innings and Jacques Kallis and Nicky Boje in the second, took the attack to the Sri Lankan trio of spinners. Not foolish daring, but tempered aggression.

Russel Arnold admired their approach: "The South Africans always had us thinking. They were willing to play positively and tried to rattle Murali. In Galle England preferred to just pad up and occupy the crease. I don't think you can play like that here."

England coach Duncan Fletcher said: "I have spoken to the South Africans about this and they've played Sri Lanka more than anyone and even they would say it is difficult to score runs off Murali."

"You can try to be positive but on these wickets it is like facing a seamer bowling on a green top and it is difficult to play against.

"The key to it is not to get into a totally defensive mode - you have to accept he is going to bowl well and make sure you wait and if he does pitch one short turn it into a loose ball."

And now England must confront a fully fit Muralitharan. In Galle the magical off spinner hobbled in from a shortened run-up and was not his normally potent self. Even so he took seven wickets. His confidence now restored and playing in his hometown, he could prove even more of a handful.

"Murali has fully recovered now and is bowling really well in the nets," said Sanath Jayasuriya afterwards. "He wasn't at his best in Galle and bowled from a shorter run-up than normal. Now, however, he is back off the long run and it is going to be difficult for the English batsmen as he should get more bounce on this wicket."

Jayasuriya believes that the brown pitch in at the picturesque Asgiriya Stadium will be better than the turgid surface in Galle, which powdered up after the first two days: "It looks a very good wicket and should stay so for about three days. It is hard, should have more bounce than Galle, but will definitely turn."

Hussain says that England will take one further look at the pitch before they decide on their final XI: "We had an interesting management chat last night where 14 names were thrown into the ring. I just want to have a look at how some people bowl today and have another look at the wicket."

Although they may consider playing Michael Vaughan instead of Robert Croft to bolster the batting and the impressive Matthew Hoggard in place of Andrew Caddick, they are expected to play the same team.

Marcus Trescothick practised with his knee heavily strapped, but England expect him to play and would probably play him even if he had just one leg, so well has he played in Sri Lanka so far.

Sri Lanka will replace Dilhara Fernando with Nuwan Zoysa who has recovered from a viral infection and is said to be bowling well in the nets. Although Russel Arnold experienced pain while batting in the nets today, the three stitches he required after Sunday's fielding practice should not rule him out. Kumar Dharmasena is expected to hold on to the second spinner's slot, ahead of Dinuk Hettiarachchi and the youthful Kaushalya Loukuarachchi.

Once again the toss will prove important, though perhaps not as much as in the First Test. Hussain will be praying that his luck finally changes this winter, after winning just one toss in four Tests, but whoever fields first will be aware that the fast bowlers have often taken wickets on the first day in Kandy, most famously when Australia lost seven wickets before lunch in 1998.

Dav Whatmore said: "I actually don't mind it either way. We have bowled out Australia and South Africa on the first day in Kandy during the last two years and Muttiah Muralitharan will prove a handful whenever he bowls."