England in Sri Lanka 2012

Could Sri Lanka end England's time at the top?

These two Tests are vital for England if they want to be considered worthy No. 1s, but history is in Sri Lanka's favour

Andrew McGlashan in Galle

March 25, 2012

Comments: 27 | Text size: A | A

Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss strike a happy pose with the mace, England v India, 4th Test, The Oval, 5th day, August 22, 2011
England could lose their grip on the coveted Test mace if they succumb to Sri Lanka © Getty Images
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The Test rankings say England remain No. 1 - and on April 1 they will receive the cash bonus for holding that position - but it is becoming a weak grip on top spot. There is actually the chance that a few days after the cut-off the positioning at the top will change, if South Africa take the series against New Zealand, as is looking certain, and England lose by the same margin, or greater, against Sri Lanka.

So, these two Tests are vital for England if they want to be considered worthy No. 1s, rather than fleeting visitors much as South Africa were two years ago. This is the sort of series that England should be starting as favourites to win. They have a formidable bowling attack - strong enough not to be able to include Steven Finn in all likelihood - and a batting line-up where six of the top seven average over 40. But they had those same strengths before facing Pakistan in the UAE and the end result was a 3-0 whitewash.

No team has managed to win consistently away from home in recent years, which is why the top of the Test rankings remains fluid. It also needs remembering that it took even Australia a while to crack the subcontinent, the reason why their series victories in Sri Lanka in 2004 and India in 2004-05 were such celebrated triumphs.

"We have got a point to prove, we need to bounce back after those results against Pakistan but we aren't focussing on the world rankings," Andrew Strauss said. "It's of no great consequence to us, if you focus too much on that you take your eye off the game of cricket you are trying to play. Sri Lanka are a very good side, especially in their home conditions, and we've got to be very good to overcome that. That's plenty for us to focus on, the rankings will take care of themselves."

These days Sri Lanka have lost the fear-factor they brought to the field when Muttiah Muralitharan was in the team and, even in home conditions, the bowling attack does not match-up favourably against England. Whichever four bowlers Sri Lanka pick, none would play ahead of England's quartet. They have won just one Test - albeit a famous victory against South Africa in Durban - since Muralitharan's retirement and lost their most recent home series 1-0 against Australia at the start of their rebuilding phase.

Still, this will be a mighty challenge for England. Under Mahela Jayawardene, returned to the captaincy in place of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka showed heart and fight in the recent Commonwealth Bank Series, coming within 17 runs of taking it off Australia. If they can bring that same verve into the Test game they can be a force, although the job of sustaining a performance over five days rather than 100 overs is obviously tougher. But history is in their favour.

England's record in Sri Lanka is poor: three wins from 11 Test and one of those came in the inaugural meeting in 1982. They have not bowled Sri Lanka out twice on these shores since Galle in 2003. That is why what Nasser Hussain achieved here in 2000-01 was such a significant achievement. In an era before England started challenging Australia again, it was that era's greatest success, especially as they had to come from 1-0 down.

Ian Bell arrives for a training session amid heavy security, Galle, March 25, 2012
Ian Bell needs to arrest his string of low scores in 2012 © AFP

Since then contests between these two teams on Sri Lankan soil have reverted to type and consecutive 1-0 victories in 2003-04 and 2007-08 don't do justice to the home side's dominance. In the first of those, England gained huge credit for two backs-to-the-wall draws - starring such names as Chris Read, Gareth Batty and Richard Johnson - to keep the series level before being overwhelmed by an innings in Colombo.

Four years later they came within 20 minutes of saving the first Test in Kandy - during which Muttiah Muralitharan became the leading Test wicket-taker - but never came close to challenging in the next two. They were bowled out for 81 in Galle only to be saved mostly by rain, although Alastair Cook did manage an impressive second-innings hundred.

Cook's innings was the only hundred of that series for England, but that was one more than they managed in the UAE recently against Pakistan. Eoin Morgan was the batsman to pay the price by being dropped for this series but the others were given a vote of confidence, and rightly so, based on their records. Two more Tests of failure, though, and further positions will be under severe pressure.

At least during the two warm-up matches most of the top-order spent time in the middle with Cook, Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott making hundreds. Ian Bell's problems continued, however, with his three innings on tour totalling 25 runs, and he needs to show he is not regressing back to the Bell of pre-South Africa tour of 2009, since when he has evolved into a wonderful Test batsman.

Sri Lanka's batting should be the least of their concerns: Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera provide a powerful middle order and they possess the explosive qualities of Tillakaratne Dilshan at the top, while Dinesh Chandimal appears to be the future of Sri Lanka's middle order. However, they are coming into the series just days after completing three months of one-day cricket with the Asia Cup.

Failing to reach the final in Dhaka did them a favour, allowing a few extra days at home before they met up in Galle on Saturday. Yet it seems bizarre that a visiting side can have better preparation than the hosts for a Test series. That is not to say, however, that Sri Lanka can't bring an end to England's brief time at the top.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by big_al_81 on (March 26, 2012, 12:02 GMT)

Let's just enjoy the fact we're up there to be sniped at. The teams of the mockers and knockers aren't number 1 and they're chasing England who, over the last 3 years, have been comfortably the best side in the world in Tests. South Africa are very, very good too but haven't been able to win at home consistently for ages so can't be ranked higher. There's not a lot between the two teams soI'll just enjoy it while the rankings are as they are. We won't learn much from SA beating NZ and sadly, England's series in SL is too short to tell us much either. All to play for in the summer then, between what are undoubtedly the two best sides in the world.

Posted by shikhargupta on (March 26, 2012, 12:00 GMT)

england testing time has come.In this year they have matches in sub continent. They already loss to pakistan 0-3 down, currently playing against sri lanka and will play india in october later this year. No doubt they are best in england condition, but to remain on top they have to perfrom well in sub cintinent. India didnt perform well in overseas so they loose their top position. currently no side is no.1 as all are tigers in their home

Posted by RandyOZ on (March 26, 2012, 11:56 GMT)

We all already know that England are really 4th or 5th in the real test rankings. No one really cares what the ICC sideshow tells us!

Posted by Hold_the_line on (March 26, 2012, 10:46 GMT)

SL to win 2-0. Their batting line up is stronger and in better form, and the home conditions will of course suit them. Welegedara will cause England serious trouble, his bowling to be even more impressive than his 6 initials. So much has been said of the England attack, its a good attack, but thats all. Unless you perform away from home, and consistently - especially in Asia - you cannot claim to be a champion team, let alone a great team and England are neither. World cricket is looking for a team to break from the pack and the closest we have at the moment is South Africa, although they too still have more left to prove.

Posted by chapathishot on (March 26, 2012, 10:39 GMT)

@5Wombats : Forgot when the all time greats could not even get 150 against pakistan . Forgot 5-0 whitewash in India in ODIS ,So they will never win a series in Sub continent even against Bangladesh in next 25 years .

Posted by   on (March 26, 2012, 10:06 GMT)

@5wombats the real number 1 is currently thrashing the kiwis . We will see what happens when south africa tour england . Philander will rip through the batting line up. I think you have forgotten England recently got whitewashed as well against Pakistan.

Posted by stormy16 on (March 26, 2012, 9:28 GMT)

I think's important to realize that Eng dont have to prove anything as they ARE #1. People seem to think that by not continuing to be #1 the achievement of reaching #1 is somehow diminished. Eng have been a great side packed with quality batters and bowlers which resulted in them reaching the #1 status. Yes the next challenge is to be at the top but howmany teams achieve that and that applies to other sports too. This also doesnt mean Eng need to win in Asia - there is no such requirement in the ranking system. Now remaining at the top and winning all over the world is not the same as being #1, which is what Eng are trying to achived and they didnt make a good fist of it in the UAE. I can think of the Windies of the 80's and Aus after that falling in to this "great" category and Eng have are a fair way off that but they are #1 in the world and worthy in all sense. No one said India the former #1 who didnt win in Aus or SA were somehow not worthy of the title.

Posted by Prasadbby on (March 26, 2012, 9:23 GMT)

My parents say I don't deserve the wonderful wife I have :) However it doesn't change the fact that I have a wonderful wife. West Indies, Australia in their prime were a runaway success. However there is a process in picking the number one in the Tests today. England are number 1 because of that process. So were India before them. Do they deserve it? I would say they earned it. It could be because of a combination they played well in some series and their competitors didn't against some other opponents. Either way it's not their fault.

India had won against everyone except SA in SA (where they drew) and Aus in Aus (where they drew). Did SA win in India during that time? Did Aus win in India during that period? No. That's why they were No. 1 for couple years. Same is the case with England. They won at home, they won in Aus. During this period their competitors faltered against each other. So please give them their dues. Only time will tell how much further will the last.

Posted by HatsforBats on (March 26, 2012, 9:23 GMT)

@ 5wombats; funniest comment ever. With all that rooting how big is your wombat brood these days? Hopefully SL put up more fight than India have of late. England should be favourites but after their UAE performance there is some doubt. Can anyone advise me whether Patel was the right choice? Surely he was chosen as a bowling option, and if he was, is a 3rd spinning option necessary? I would have though Bresnan (still injured?) would be perfect for these conditions; big engine, hard hitting, reverse swing.

Posted by lawton on (March 26, 2012, 8:12 GMT)

Irrespective of the ranking,its South Africa for me.Based on recent performance and results they are the no.1 team at the moment.Incidendly why is that only certain teams do well on "flat tracks"?Should'nt every team relish "flat tracks"and make tons of runs?Anyone any idea?

Posted by iphone1 on (March 26, 2012, 6:41 GMT)

SL is an avg side in test cricket. According to this author, Sri Lankan cricket team is in a rebuilding phase. I disagree with that. Only Murali retired recently and it still got the bulk of their batting order and their average bowling attack. I do agree that there are very strong at home and even other subcontinent teams have found it difficult. But with this current setup, I expect England to win easily, even though I do not want England to win. SL supporters should derive joy from ODI's.

Posted by g.narsimha on (March 26, 2012, 5:47 GMT)

MR 5 WOMBOTS- SUJECT ON THIS THREAD IS SL-ENG ,MR-G-SRI is a SL FAN , comenting on possibility of SL- ENG series result , in what way IND , COMES IN TO THE PICTURE in case u want to show case ur achievements , than why u fail to mention the 3-0 white wash in UAE, OR IN THAT MATTER IF WANT TO GO IN TO HISTORY THAN HOW could u forget the greate performance of ur great team in INDIA in the last 2 decades, my dear sir we are not demeaming ur great home victories over OUR team which thrashed u in home & away for decades ,it seems except the recent home heroecs u have nothing to show against IND , so no problem celebrat the lone home heroism for decades, the SL IS AT PRESENT ON DECLAINE , these are indicative in uae against pak, lets see the out come of this series , but mark my words , as won in ur own back yard , u cant except similar results in IND LATER THIS YEAR ,IF UR TEAM SUCCEEDS EVEN HALF , what it had achieved in ENG I WOULD be the first man to selute ur greate team

Posted by   on (March 26, 2012, 5:41 GMT)

I am preety sure for sri lankan's low cricket palying i am 100% sure england will won or this series will end up a draw

Posted by Fast_Track_Bully on (March 26, 2012, 4:58 GMT)

@5wombats. 3-0 Against Pakistan too was delightful, isn't it? So, nothing to hype. India at least hold the NO:1 post 1 year and fought hard against 1st away match after the no:1 position against SA. But Eng crashed to whitewash just after they got no:1 position. That's not funny.

Posted by maddy20 on (March 26, 2012, 1:30 GMT)

SL has to bat out of their skins and their most experienced players should rise to the occasion if they are to challenge England. Sure England ain't that good players of spin but their bowling attack looks pretty decent with the spin duo of Monty and Swann who would relish the spin friendly wickets of the subcontinent. Go SL! @5wombats Don't worry about India England. You would have lots of fun when Eng lose 3 series in one year(SL, SA and Ind). No team has beaten India on our turf for the last 9 years. And they are gonna make it ten by drubbing England by the end of the year. SA is the only deserving no.1 team right now and they will get there soon.

Posted by Hamshank on (March 26, 2012, 0:50 GMT)

Jarr30 in that way of thinking no sub-continent team can ever be number one unless they win in England, Australia and South Africa !!

So we don't have any number one team. The rankings should be scrapped anyway

Posted by Jarr30 on (March 25, 2012, 20:58 GMT)

I don't thinks England deserves to be No#1 at this moment if they can't win in sub-continent.They will have to prove that England wins in all conditions by beating SL. SriLanka plays well ONLY at home with all the help of their flat tracks and they will have to contain J'wardene who has scored 9000 out of his 10K runs in Srilanka. The man who can puzzle us is Herath and is in good form.

Posted by Supa_SAFFA on (March 25, 2012, 20:44 GMT)

The world of cricket is ever-changing. Bangladesh is emerging as a credible force, the Windies and Pakistan is on the rise. Whatever the result of Eng vs Sri Lanka it may not mean much. We need a test championship.

Posted by 5wombats on (March 25, 2012, 20:14 GMT)

@G.Sri on (March 25 2012, 14:39 PM GMT). England crushed india 4-0. There were two innings defeats. The 4-0 thrashing of india wasn't much fun because it was too easy. Then, just for good measure, Australia thrashed india 4-0 as well. India not very good are they? Wombats now root for any team that plays against india. We love rooting.

Posted by JG2704 on (March 25, 2012, 19:20 GMT)

Cue loads of snipes that England don't deserve to be number 1 - despite the fact they've only lost one series in 3 years - albeit 3-0. I think England will find it hard to win out here with the negative line up they are likely to pick. Maybe the series will be drawn and the weather will stop SA winning 2-0. If that was the case both Eng and SA would be level on points although I'm not sure who would be top.

Posted by simba1908 on (March 25, 2012, 18:17 GMT)

Am getting really sick of hearing all this talk about World Number 1. Surely it's better sense to concentrate on each match, and each series. The all-important rankings will take care of themselves as a result. Usually it's the media and/or commentators that continually talk about it all but still ... look at what's really important in the game: which is NOT the rankings.

Posted by Brenton1 on (March 25, 2012, 17:43 GMT)

Do you best to survive, England. SA wants to take the no1 away from you, not be handed it because you cant play spin.

Posted by MilindaGeorge on (March 25, 2012, 15:47 GMT)

It will be difficult for England this time. If SL will go ahead with two specialist spinners it will be a very tough contest indeed. Considering the in form of top order bats led by world rank 1 Sanga will be looking forward to post a big total on the board in Galle. P.Sara Ovel will be more England friendly considering the fast and bouncy nature of the track. Plus heat will be a killer for England players and test their fitness to the fullest.

Posted by AdrianVanDenStael on (March 25, 2012, 15:10 GMT)

England showed vulnerability in the UAE, but do Sri Lanka have sufficiently accomplished bowlers to take advantage? The expected victory in New Zealand notwithstanding, I think South Africa might have to wait a bit longer to take back that no.1 spot.

Posted by WC96QF on (March 25, 2012, 14:47 GMT)

I predict that England's grip on the mace will be as tenuous as South Africa's was ! And weaker than India's !!! There were plenty of critics when India was at No.1 - saying its all part of the BCCI's machinations that India achieved that ranking. Well, we just saw how England performed : in ODIs when they came to India they were blanked 5-0. In Tests they were blanked 3-0 by Pakistan. Sure, they were able to hit back in the ODI series. But wheres the consistency of a World Champion ? Make no mistake, the competition is tough : Australia's rebuilding process is on track, South Africa is looking in great form, Pakistan is doing well and India will come back strongly once again ! Let the 'Poms' enjoy their time in the sun - while it lasts !!! :-))

Posted by Srini_Chennai on (March 25, 2012, 14:39 GMT)

SL would crush England 2-0. I suspect both would be innings defeat. I'd normally root against SL, but hey they are playing England now. A 2-0 thrashing of England would be fun.

Posted by arunsudha on (March 25, 2012, 14:15 GMT)

i feel the lankans must teach the english a lesson.i want a white wash sl 2-0.

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Andrew McGlashanClose
Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.
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