SL A v England Lions, 2nd unofficial Test, Dambulla February 18, 2014

Lions ready for up-country spin test


Lions look to wrap up series in Dambulla

Dambulla is not very significant on the Sri Lanka tourist map. Not the city centre at least. The economy here runs on vegetables - its central location used as a distribution hub, often attracting a larger crowd than the cricket ground.

Dragging a touring side to the country's northern-most cricketing outpost has more often than not seen them packed off as efficiently as the produce at market; Sri Lanka's record in ODIs here is won 24, lost nine. But England Lions arrive 1-0 up in the series and with far fewer reservations about this rural boondock than many other previous visitors. Their exceptional fitness also rules reduces enervation.

Three of their squad, James Taylor, Jonny Bairstow and the captain, Chris Woakes, played in both unofficial ODIs that England Lions won here in January 2012. Plenty have also previously toured Bangladesh. England are no longer so susceptible to cultural shock.

But they remain vulnerable to spin - 11 of the 18 wickets the Lions lost in Pallekele fell to slow bowling, a statistic that shouldn't escape the notice of Graham Gooch, batting coach of the England senior team who has joined the tour, with Sri Lanka and India England's two opponents next summer.

The wickets taken by the very impressive Tharindu Kaushal, who was included in Sri Lanka's Test squad at 19 before he had played a first-class match, and Chaturanga de Silva in the first unofficial Test were against set batsmen in the first innings - the lack of an influential individual score by a member of the top order was one of few reasons for Lions disappointment in Pallekele - and cheaper scalps in the second kept Sri Lanka A in the match. If the Lions can reduce the impact of the spinners they may thrive again but face a wicket which could crumble more than Pallekele in the hotter northern conditions.

But the location of the ground can also prove attractive to seam bowling. The "Dambulla tank" - Ibbankatuwa Webe reservoir - creates a high water level and ensures the wicket retains moisture. The seamers will be grateful for small mercies. Asia can be a graveyard for fast bowlers and, after a short workout in the first innings, the Lions were forced into third and fourth spells to complete victory in Pallekele.

In that match, they were largely superb. At only one stage in the game did a significant partnership develop - and that was on day four when the wicket was at its most straightforward to bat on. The bowlers kept their discipline, all took wickets, and were used in short spells to stay fresh, something of even greater importance in Dambulla where the mercury has climbed and humidity increased.

Woakes - six wickets in the match - and Graham Onions were incisive with the new ball and exposed Sri Lanka A's batting. James Harris, the spare seamer in the squad whose 2013 was blighted by a hamstring injury, will be keen for an opportunity here.

Madawa Warnapura's century was important for the series. His top-order colleagues only managed three double-figure scores between them but they can take significant heart from Warnapura's effort, proving this attack can be resisted in the opening exchanges. They certainly need to be. Being five down cheaply is often debilitating. The hosts are pondering a change in the top order as they seek greater stability.

England Lions will make at least one change to their XI, with Moeen Ali having left the tour ahead of England's trip to the West Indies. The beauty of his batting and excellent form will be obviously missed but he also impressed with his offspin in Pallekele, removing the two batsmen who got set in the first innings and ending the recovery act de Silva had forged with Warnupura in the second.

Simon Kerrigan is fit enough to play and showed good form with five wickets in the second warm-up match of this tour. Ollie Rayner, who was initially deputising for Kerrigan, would provide a more all-round option and a closer replacement for Moeen, whose absence could see Bairstow, who made 0 and 19 in Pallekele, move up the order.

Both Kerrigan and Rayner could be accommodated if England go with a three-man seam attack, something that was felt would weaken their primary threat in the first rubber.

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on February 19, 2014, 13:11 GMT

    @CodandChips Sri Lanka order a big turner and yet Woakes and Onions are almost unplayable (29-11-48-5 between them). It's shades of that amazing game back in 2001, I believe, when we need to win the final Test to win the series and the seamers shot out Sri Lanka for under 80 to win the match. Onions is beginning to leave those nightmare tours to India and New Zealand behind him and it astonishes me that Woakes does not get more respect.

    Not too much from the three England spinners, but look who came on and took a wicket immediately, despite being the most expensive of the three. Scott Borthwick seems to be one of those lucky bowlers who can bowl a polyhop and see the batsman edge it tamely to the 'keeper. Australia promised to dismantle him as they had Kerrigan and he ended up with four cheap wickets and topped the tour averages without anyone quite knowing how!

    I was fortunate enough to see Sam Robson win a CC match in 2011 from the commentary box. He was lauded even then.

  • Paulo on February 19, 2014, 9:08 GMT

    @Cricketingstargazer good points raised. Personally not a massive fan of Robson anyway but you have to listen to county cricket imo.

    Imo Davies showed promise and was dropped too early. A decent keeper and agressive batsman. Always looks good in white ball cricket when he visits Hants, though this is a different format. Dont forget he was reserve keeper for years and then Bairstow suddenly got the gig, despite appearing a poor keeper and batsman in international cricket.

    Interesting that Kerrigan and Rayner both playing, but Onions is doing the damage, despite being a "green-top" bowler.

  • ESPN on February 19, 2014, 7:40 GMT

    Glad there is some support for Kerrigan on here. His record speaks for itself, by far the most successful English spinner (average wise) last season.

    Like others I feed he has been rubbished for one poor performance. Look at many of the rest of the team in the most recent series.

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2014, 3:16 GMT

    Moeen Ali seems to have taken more wicket and with better economy than the other spinners, and his batting has also been good. Also a fine fielder. One for the future here. (Can he keep wicket as well?!)

  • Mark on February 18, 2014, 22:20 GMT

    @CodandChips 90% sound common sense there. Not sure what the issue is with Sam Robson - when people talk of him as England's next opener his form seems to drop off suddenly - but I hope that the Lions persevere with him here. However, it is true that the top order did not cover themselves in glory. People rubbish Simon Kerrigan, but he has several seasons of results between excellent and brilliant and you can't take that away with 8 overs of nervous dross in one match.

    The 10% is Steven Davies. I admit that I am unconvinced that he is the answer. He has 13 Caps (8xODI, 5xT20), but his record was unspectacular, only reaching 30 four times. Maybe he is a better, more mature player now and worth another go, but I need someone to convince me of that. There is no strong candidate that I would put forward, although I agree with you that if the answer is Jonny Bairstow we are asking the wrong question.

  • Tony on February 18, 2014, 22:16 GMT

    As Gooch has arrived we can expect the standard of batting to decline rapidly. Previously confident players will become indecisive, any positivity will evaporate before our very eyes. Have the powers that be not yet realised that Gooch is the root cause of most of our current batting woes?

  • Lakpriya on February 18, 2014, 17:50 GMT

    This A team must be the most inexperienced and the youngest 2nd 11 that SL had put together, regardless of the outcome of the series it will give the batsmen a great chance to face good quality quicks and try to identify their weaknesses.

  • Yasitha on February 18, 2014, 16:58 GMT

    i am sure tharindu kaushal will get 10+ wickets in this track..

  • Paulo on February 18, 2014, 16:48 GMT

    I'd play Kerrigan. He is probably the best first class spinner in the country following Swann's retirement, Tredwell's abysmal season for Kent. Borthwick would be an allrounder- more a batsman who can bowl useful spin overs. He does lack a bit of control though.

    The top 3 struggled last match, so I'd like Vince to come in. Hopefully Woakes and Borthwick have improved enough with the bat to merit batting 5 & 6. Wouldn't mind Ballance coming into the squad to replace Ali.

    As I've said before, England should leave Bairstow alone for a bit. Davies should be in SriLanka, as he would be my test choice. Don't know much about Foakes- can he keep/bat? Does he get enough opportunities behind Foster? The reason I've left Bairstow in that side is because I don't know too much about Foakes, and first class cricket rather than international cricket might help Bairstow.

    1.Robson 2.Chopra 3.Taylor 4.Vince 5.Woakes 6.Borthwick 7.Bairstow 8.Plunkett 9.Mills 10.Onions 11.Kerrigan

  • Nicholas on February 18, 2014, 16:33 GMT

    Would be nice to see Kerrigan get another game. Bairstow needs to pull off something significant this time - get some form and confidence back.

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