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June 27, 2006
Since their defeat at Chester-le-Street on Saturday there has been plenty of talk of 'executing plans' and 'developing strategies' - favourite buzzwords for sportsmen who continually fail to perform. The plans should be simple; bowl straight, field sharply and don't throw away wickets, but they have been spectacularly botched by England throughout the series. At Old Trafford they have to forget what has gone before and start again.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka can use the last week of their tour as a celebration of their most successful overseas trip. Mahela Jayawardene has grown in stature as a captain, talented youngsters have been unearthed and the early squabbles between selectors and coach now seem a distant memory.
"Our focus is to make sure we do the things we have been doing in the last three games and the result will take care of itself," Jayawardene said ahead of the fourth match. "When you have the opposition down it is important to keep them down and that is what we have done since the last Test match." Even though this match has no impact on the series result, it would be a surprise if the Sri Lankans let their grip loosen, especially given the further injury concerns around the England camp.
Vikram Solanki has been drafted in to cover for Kevin Pietersen (knee) and Paul Collingwood (thigh) and the loss of either would severely weaken England's middle order and, in Collingwood's case, the bowling options. Although Pietersen's scan showed no serious damage to his left knee, there seems little point risking him in a dead match when he is one of the few players secure in his one-day position.
The bowling could also be rejigged - after all, the performances can't get much worse - and Sajid Mahmood would be the most likely to miss out after his two recent floggings, despite the chance of a first international appearance on his home ground. Alex Loudon's offspin showed enough promise at Chester-le-Street to be worth another look while Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett need to keep bowling ahead of the Test series next month.
However England perform on the field it is currently overshadowed by two issues, one from within cricket, the other a certain tournament in Germany. Marcus Trescothick admits the cricketers can't compete with the footballers but they must concentrate on their own performances.
"The only series that would compete with that is against the Australians," he told reporters at Old Trafford. "But we want to put on a performance every game we play. It's not just a case of making a special effort when the football is on. We have to make our game better regardless of what is going on in Germany. A win is obviously very important for us because we know the confidence winning breeds."
The other major issue is Michael Vaughan's knee and the news he could face a fourth operation, putting his Ashes place in doubt: "He's obviously very disappointed," said Trescothick. "It hasn't gone how he wanted it to but there's still time for him at the moment. We'll see how it pans out. We need him back but we'll give him as much time as we can."
Sri Lanka have no such worries and can pretty much do as they please. The squad players will hope for a match before the tour is out, but Jayawardene has shown a ruthless streak recently and won't want to break up a cohesive unit just for the sake of it. However, with the visit of South Africa shortly after they return home, some of the senior players may have earned a match off.
England (probable) Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Vikram Solanki, Jamie Dalrymple, Geraint Jones (wk), Alex Loudon, Kabir Ali, Liam Plunkett, Steve Harmison
Sri Lanka (probable) Upul Tharanga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Russel Arnold, Farveez Maharoof, Malinga Bandara, Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando, Lasith Malinga
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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