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March 23, 2012
Touring Sri Lanka no longer comes with the challenge of facing Muttiah Muralitharan, but while the opposition attack has changed the climate hasn't. Kevin Pietersen rarely deals in half measures so it wasn't surprising to hear him describe the heat England will face in the Test series as "unbelievable" and a bigger task than combating Sri Lanka's bowling attack.
England have sweated through two warm-up matches in Colombo and are now in Galle ahead of the first Test, which starts on Monday, but the change in location won't bring much relief. During England's second warm-up match against a Sri Lanka Development XI the mercury hit the mid-30s* in the middle and at drinks breaks batsmen, including Pietersen, used icepacks on their heads. Matt Prior even resorted to keeping without pads. On the whole, though, the England squad appear to be adjusting - another hallmark of their outstanding fitness levels - with most of the batsmen playing lengthy innings and the bowlers all getting overs in their legs.
However, performing in tour matches is one thing. England's batsmen need to make up for their woeful series against Pakistan in the UAE where Alastair Cook's 94 in Abu Dhabi was the highest score; where they failed to chase 145 and then couldn't build a match-winning lead after bowling out Pakistan for 99 in the final Test. Still, while respecting the opposition, it wasn't the Sri Lanka bowlers preoccupying Pietersen's mind.
"They've got a left-arm spinner, Rangana Herath, who bowls wicket to wicket and you saw against Pakistan what a guy like Abdur Rehman did to us," Pietersen said. "Left-arm spin is a huge part of the game now and it's not going to be easy at all. But it's not really the spinners out here, it's the heat. I think that will be the biggest threat to us."
Overcoming tough conditions is why touring is such a huge challenge. For all that England's players are finding it hard work now, Sri Lanka didn't have much fun rugged up against the cold at Cardiff or Lord's in May - although the demands of playing in higher temperatures are probably tougher, as there's only so much you can do to cool down.
"It's unbelievable, make no bones about that, but it's something we have to try and get over as quickly as possible," Pietersen said. "I'm trying to just not do too much and to conserve a lot of energy, not run around like a crazy fool like you do in England or Australia or South Africa, where you can afford to do that.
"It's something we have to try and control. On days off we need to get out, swim in the sea, spend some time in the sun and let your body get used to it. If you only spend time in the dressing room or in the ground and you try and take conditions in like that it's not going to work. You need to get out as much as you can."
Pietersen could find himself with more to keep him busy in the field than normal, if some overs of his under-used offspin are required. Ravi Bopara's side strain means he's unlikely to bowl during the series but remains the favourite to bat at No. 6 ahead of Samit Patel and Pietersen played down any problems in balancing the team.
"I'm not sure it's a big setback, because he's [Bopara] hardly going to take you seven wickets in a Test match," he said. "He might bowl you four overs. I can bowl those overs, Jonathan Trott can bowl those four overs."
England's frontline bowlers will hope Pietersen can supply a few more than four overs.
Edited by Alan Gardner
*21.30 GMT: The temperature was changed from mid-40s to mid-30s
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