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April 1, 2012
Little more than two months after his successful return to Test cricket, Monty Panesar could find himself back on the sidelines as England try to balance their side in their attempt to level the series against Sri Lanka.
The injury that has forced Stuart Broad to leave the tour ahead of the second Test in Colombo has created another selection dilemma because his likely replacement, Steven Finn, lacks his batting strength while Tim Bresnan, the other quick bowler in the squad, has not had enough cricket in recent months to be fielded as one of a two-man pace attack.
Jonathan Trott admitted it would not be a simple decision for the selectors. "Finny has been working hard on his batting so we should give him some credit," he said. "But obviously Stuart is very good as a bowling allrounder and adds that dynamic to the team."
Panesar bowled far from poorly in Galle but did not pose the same threat as he had done against Pakistan in the UAE. That was partly because the Sri Lankans, especially Mahela Jayawardene, made a conscious effort to lead with their bat rather than the pad so limiting the likelihood of lbws.
In the first innings, Panesar did a good holding job - conceding less than two an over - but had to wait until midway through Sri Lanka's second innings to claim a wicket and ended with 2 for 59.
Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka's left-arm spinner, by comparison had career-best match figures of 12 for 171 and showed the value of variations in pace and flight whereas Panesar's mode of attack was more predictable. Graeme Swann, meanwhile, starred in the second innings with 6 for 82 to cement his standing as England's lead spinner.
Panesar also did himself no favours with a poor fielding display when he dropped Jayawardene twice in consecutive overs during the latter stages of his 180. The first, a top-edged hook to fine leg, came out of a low sun and was less simple than it appeared but the second, which looped to him at mid-on, was an embarrassing drop. During training on Sunday, Panesar held the half-dozen catches given by Richard Halsall, the assistant coach, but nothing can replicate the pressure of a match situation.
Samit Patel's Test debut in Galle amounted to 11 runs and two wickets and the suggestion that he should retain his place ahead of the specialist bowler sounds at odds with the needs of England who must win to level the series therefore making 20 wickets a priority. However, taking 20 wickets has not been their problem this year; scoring runs has.
If Patel was omitted in favour of Bresnan it would leave Graeme Swann at No. 8 followed by three bowlers - Finn, Panesar and James Anderson - who do not offer a huge amount with the bat. There is one other option which involves bringing in Ravi Bopara as a specialist batsman and playing four frontline bowlers if Bopara's batting is viewed as substantially superior to Patel's. But England's need for a fifth bowler in these conditions has not disappeared.
There were few clues during England's net session on Sunday although Kevin Pietersen did bowl more than he often does on practice days.
The P Sara Oval groundsman, NS Silva, has said he thinks the match will go five days but England have not achieved that on their recent travels. There have been 11 results from the 15 Tests played at the venue, the last of which was in August 2010, when India chased down 257. Suraj Randiv took nine wickets in that match and spin has a good record at the ground. That still might not be enough for Panesar.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth
Plays of the Day from the third ODI between India and West Indies, in Kanpur