Sri Lanka A v England Lions, 1st Test, Kandy February 11, 2014

England's future goes on display


Lions aim to lift English cricket

As the majority of English cricket supporters mourn the loss of Kevin Pietersen - the stages of grief are all there: denial, anger, depression - a group of players who are actually available for the national side are about to begin perhaps the most important series of their careers.

The England development programme that has the England Lions at its summit was devised as the most efficient way to produce Test cricketers. Now it is under its greatest scrutiny as England are forced to delve deeper into their reserve stocks than ever before.

The Lions' performances in Sri Lanka, where a three four-day match series begins against Sri Lanka A on Wednesday, will of course provide only part of the evidence for Test selection in June but a strong showing in alien conditions will be a significant start.

English cricket needs cheering up from the debacle down under and this squad can provide a tonic of encouragement that the Test side can be rebuilt. The selectors need some good news too. Pietersen has been cast aside for a new generation and a new band of Test cricketers needs to be forthcoming to justify their decision. The quicker a new team is assembled the better for the management.

This tour has become the most significant Lions trip ever undertaken. England need potentially six new players for June. Some of them are in Sri Lanka.

It's a strong group. Moeen Ali is in England's World T20 squad. Scott Borthwick was with England in Australia. Four others have international experience and Sam Robson is in many observers future Test side already. The new generation is already out there, not waiting to be discovered by an ECB sleuth.

Borthwick is the latest in a line of, hitherto unsuccessful, legspinners England have tried. A Test-class leggie is a luxury few sides in the history of the game have enjoyed and Borthwick has been greedily lined up to become England's. He will find assistance in Pallekele, the venue for the opening match of this tour, and a return similar to the 4 for 25 in the first innings of the second warm-up match will turn giddy those clamouring for England's resurgence. But while a dose of excitement is no bad thing in the current climate, Borthwick needs time. In the second innings of the same match he produced 0 for 54 in 10 overs.

It is a cautionary tale that can be labelled to many of this squad. Simon Kerrigan - another candidate to succeed Graeme Swann who has been tearing up the County Championship - endured an horrendous Test debut. Jonny Bairstow - slayer of South Africa at Lord's two summers ago - struggled to provide consistent performances at international level. Chris Woakes - leading English allrounder in county cricket last season - has been exposed with ball in hand.

An asterisk can be placed against many names and they will hope to begin to scrub such doubts away here. The England team is a not so much a closed shop now but welcoming to all comers. Woakes, captain for this tour, was perfectly entitled to provide a vague answer when asked for five or six names that will be the future of England.

"We've got a good team with some experience that have played international cricket before and there's some guys that haven't played much for the Lions," Woakes said. "It's hard to single out individuals at this moment in time, but come the end of the tour, I might be able to give you a few names. It's difficult to name individuals that I can say are going to be in that Test squad come June."

Two warm-up matches in more humid Colombo have been stern preparation for the airier Kandy. They were also the first chances for Woakes to assume control of his group - his first experience of captaincy since age group cricket.

"It's been a new challenge," Woakes said. "I haven't done a great deal of it before. I'm enjoying it so far. Sometimes it's difficult when you come into these teams, it's difficult to stamp you're authority because you're here for five weeks. But we feel like we've come together as a team really well. And it will be a test in these games on the field, making decisions I don't usually make. I'm excited about it and I think I've taken the challenge up well so far."

The Lions will face a younger Sri Lankan side of whom only two have considerable international experience: Dhammika Prasad and the captain, Upul Tharanga, a veteran of 171 ODIs and 15 Tests - the last of which came in December 2007.

"This is a very important series for both sides," Tharanga said. "We have lots of youngsters. There are about nine players from the Sri Lanka A team playing with national team now and we've got most of the youngsters. Because of that, I think this is a great opportunity for all these young cricketers."

Naturally, the Sri Lankans will pose a spin threat and will include three spinners in their side. Kandy is on the verge of a drought but the outfield in Pallekele remains lush, suggesting there is enough moisture in the wicket to calm nightmares of facing a raging turner. England's seamers would certainly appreciate it too.

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dean on February 12, 2014, 13:22 GMT

    @JG, I wasn't having a go at Onions, I guess if I was trying to have a go at anyone it was the selectors. A few months ago he wasn't deemed good enough but due to the struggles in Aus he might be now. I don't want to keep going on about the KP situation but Whitaker has gone on record as saying Eng are looking at younger options & Onions is only a yr younger than KP. Woakes may have only played 1 test but he has played plenty of white ball cricket for Eng & IMO he looks short of international class. He reminds me of the bits n pieces type players we saw play test cricket for Eng in the 90s. Thankfully Stokes looks a far better prospect with bat & ball. Our seam bowling resources in general are weak, Mills, Overton & Topley are all talented but probably wont be ready for another year or 2 by which time Anderson will probably be gone, which leaves us looking in the short term at Jordan, Rankin, Bresnan & Onions for the 3rd seamer spot which dosen't feel me with much confidence.

  • Hamish on February 12, 2014, 9:34 GMT

    I'm with you there, CodandChips. There needs to be a balance between home grown, still-slightly-raw talent and the experienced campaigners, but I haven't understood the logic behind some of the recent signings which bring nothing of specific value IMHO. I'm not against cross-county transfers per se; in fairness, Carbs could be considered in the other county's reject bracket, as could Gower and Crawley in the past, but all three were/are class acts from a different mould. I never was a Dominic fan, though. I'm concerned we're grasping at straws in an attempt to get out of the second division and not quite getting it right. This is where I feel that your approach to the test team also applies, but there is an element that doesn't appear to have the patience to set the process in motion and let it happen.

  • Paulo on February 12, 2014, 7:19 GMT

    @Chomolungma good points raised but dont forget KP's averages in all formats is higher than everybody else's, despite him being in decline.

    As a Hants fan, what's your opinion on all the new signings. Personally I'm not a fan on signing lots of other counties' rejects.

    @JB633 surely some kolpaks weaken the game. Some are excellent players therefore strengthen it, but others are only there as cheaper labour imo.

  • Jon on February 12, 2014, 0:03 GMT

    Moen Ali is easily the most talented up and coming cricketer we have. I need to have a look at him against searing pace to make a full evaluation of where he is up to be we must look to get him involved as much as possible. Anyone that can strike the ball like him with that minium fuss cannot be discounted easily.

  • Jon on February 11, 2014, 23:58 GMT

    It is so bleak looking at this side we are churning out. Just been listening to George Dobell describing how English cricket is back where it was n the 90's. i must agree with him and feel a real sense of bad things to come when I look at our young players and how soft first class cricket is at the moment. We have lost 3 of our big guns and we just look a shambles with little coming through development sides. Why were we so complacent in letting the first class cricket decay over the last 3 years? Kolpak players were a great thing for the game in this country. Yes it brought sneers from Indian and Aussie fans but who actually cares. It made it harder for young players and therefore toughened the game up. The standard of younger players we are seeing at the moment is simply dreadful. Our spin department is non existent and the young batsmen are average at best. i blame this predominantly on the softening of the county game due to the regulations outlawing kolpak cricketers.

  • Hamish on February 11, 2014, 23:14 GMT

    You've outed me CodandChips, yes I am a Hants member, so don't get me started on Bates being put to the sword. JV building an innings with those elegant ground shots is a joy to watch; classy enough to be a left hander, but there you go, he does it the wrong way round.

    KP? No, for me his occasional big scores serve only to hide the flaws statistically.

    Rebuilding the test team? - spot on.

    I wouldn't have kept KP for the WCups. If he went big, fine, but can that be relied upon? If he was out second ball trying to score a six over extra, where are we then? - on the plane home. Replace him with a +40s average who consistently plays to his average, let Morgan bat where he wants and give him his head.

  • John on February 11, 2014, 21:55 GMT

    @SirViv1973 on (February 11, 2014, 18:50 GMT) On what basis is selecting Onions a desperate move? The guy has a similar test average to all the 1st choice seamers we have and has been the most consistent domestic bowler for years. In his last test he did little wrong compiling figures of 4-88 in the 1 inns and had the best ER of our bowlers. Re him being so low down in the pecking order - could it not be that the selectors have got it wrong? I seemed to remember us having this debate pre the last Ashes series , but I guess you still disagree with me that they got the selections wrong despite the stats? Woakes has had one test batting in 2 inns and bowling in one. He scored 25 and 17 not out (so averages 42 with the bat) and while his bowling wasn't that impressive I felt he improved as the game went on and in that inns his figures were no worse than Broad's

  • Paulo on February 11, 2014, 19:13 GMT


    because youngsters will have potential to become proper test players. We should take advantage of this time to prepare for the ashes in 1&1/2 years. No disrespect to SriLanka and India, but I would not mind sacrificing series against them if it guarenteed prolonged success in the future.

    Take football as an example. England will not win the world cup, so why not use it as experimentation of the talented youngsters in the country, such as Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Ross Barkley.

  • Paulo on February 11, 2014, 19:10 GMT

    @Chomolungma The reason I chose Vince at 4/5 is mainly because he has yet to really establish himself in F/C cricket, in division 2, although had an excellent end to the season. His issue is that he has marooned himself in div 2 by extending his contract while we have signed many other counties' rejects at the expense of our own young talent eg Wheater over Bates.

    I like Vince as a white-ball opener. He scores quickly without slogging- he plays proper shots. And although Carberry may have got all the plaudits for his FLT20 season, 150 vs Lancs, and awesome 2012 YB40, Vince has often appeared the better player. He strikes the ball cleanly and doesn't slog.

    On KP, is your position because you might be a Hants fan? Personally I'd have kept KP in white-ball cricket for the 2 world cups, but removed him from tests. In tests I see now as the perfect time to rebuild, and to give youngsters such as Taylor instead of decling players such as KP, even if they are less talented at the moment

  • Dean on February 11, 2014, 18:50 GMT

    Going back to Onions seems a desperate move. We were a seamer short all last summer & he couldn't get a game & there were 7 (if you include Stokes) seamers picked ahead of him for ashes tour & the surfaces in SRL won't suit him either. It's difficult to see any of the bowlers in the Lions squad coming in to the test side & doing well. We've already seen the likes of Woakes & Plunkett at Int level & both have been found wanting. Harris dosen't really have to pace to be effective on anything other than a green seamer. Mills may prove to be test class but it's too early, he needs to stay fit & get overs under his belt at FC level. There is a lot of excitement about him & he may prove a huge asset for Eng in the future but the truth is he is a complete novice with only 32 FC wickets @ a modest ave. As for the batsman. I would like to see Moen given a chance & Taylor probably deserves a run in the side, but apart from that our cupboard is pretty bare.

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