October 1, 2007

Fast bowlers could be the key

Why the spinners may not be the main threats for England on their tour of Sri Lanka

There's been talk about spin but Lasith Malinga and his fast-bowling partners could turn into matchwinners, says Sangakkara © Getty Images

The Brits are in town. It's the start of a two-part tour and a special rivalry spiced with a long colonial history and a fair share of on-field controversies over the years. We always enjoy the challenge of playing against England and this tour should also be fiercely competitive.

Who will ever forget, for example, the dramatic tension of the Asgiriya Test match back in 2001, a classic nail-biter of a Test match full of adventurous cricket and strewn with umpiring errors. Or the same Test when Nasser Hussain, annoyed by England's lack of devil, stirred things up mischievously with a broadside aimed at Murali.

I've had the odd run-in with England over the years too. Michael Atherton and I exchanged pleasantries in the middle during that 2001 series, my first taste of a Sri Lanka-England contest. We both took umbrage at each other's comments and it got heated enough to excite England's large media circus - which, to be fair, is not hard to do.

A bit of prickliness is good on the field, as long as lines are not overstepped and we are able to get along off-the-field, which we do in general with England. Unfortunately, though, Freddie is not around as he is a big favourite in our dressing room - a great cricketer and a genuinely good bloke.

First of all, though, we need to shake-off the excitement of the ICC World Twenty20 and re-adjust to the old 50-over game. Many pundits appear convinced this format is a dinosaur on the brink of extinction. I disagree. The Twenty20 Cup was a great success, and I am sure the format will grow more popular, but the 50-over format still has its place.

Yes, we may need to keep looking at the format, tinkering and modernising where required to make sure it does not get stale, but I think the greater number of overs allows for greater finesse and strategy. It is conducive to a different brand of cricket that I think will remain of great interest to serious cricket followers, especially in Asia where it remains the financial bedrock of the game.

It will also be interesting to see the impact of Twenty20 cricket on the longer version of the game. No doubt it will push-up the standards of fielding and possibly also fuel higher scores. In this series, though, we need to re-focus on our traditional game plans and make sure to exploit our home advantage by playing our own brand of cricket.

Traditionally, I think England have been unsettled by our unpredictability in the one-day game. The styles of both teams vary. We play with a rhythm, the tempo of which can suddenly change, while England have tended to play to a more fixed set plan. By being unpredictable we've been able to disrupt that formulaic approach.

But this England team seems different. They have a new leader, fresh ideas and some exciting young players. In Kevin Pietersen and Monty Panesar they also have two truly world-class performers. We may have an outstanding record against them on home soil, last losing an ODI here back in 1982, but we are under no illusions and will have to play some top-class cricket over the next two weeks.

The loss of Murali - which is at least counterbalanced by the loss of Flintoff - is naturally a blow. But in Kaushal Lokuarachchi and Dilruwan Perera we have two exciting spin-bowling allrounders. We need spinners that can score regular runs when we play in the subcontinent and the selectors rightly have one eye on the 2011 World Cup. They have a great opportunity in Murali's absence to showcase their talents.

The fast bowlers, though, cannot be forgotten. Foreign teams always talk a lot about the "key threat of spin" when they tour here. But it could be the quick bowlers who will be the matchwinners, especially with day-night matches being scheduled in wet conditions. In addition, bear in mind that the 20 overs of Powerplays also increases the importance of your three top seamers.

Fortunately, our fast bowling department is in good health. We have the vast experience of Chaminda Vaas backed up with the exciting talent of Lasith Malinga - a brilliant death bowler - and Dilhara Fernando. Farveez Maharoof is also getting better and better. We are no longer reliant just on our slow bowlers.

Tonight's match will be an important start and we're looking forward it. In these five-match series it's a great advantage to strike first and then build-up some momentum. I'm sure it will be a great contest.