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Lord's factor offers beleaguered Sri Lanka a boost

Match facts

June 9-13, 2016
Start time 11am local (1000 GMT)

Big Picture

After a torrid tour of England's northern-most venues, Sri Lanka head south to their relative fortress at Lord's. Ever since Sidath Wettimuny and Duleep Mendis lit up their country's maiden visit in 1984 with a brace of epic hundreds, Sri Lanka have forged an unlikely fondness for the game's grandest venue. They haven't yet won in seven previous matches - but neither have they lost since 1991, and the defiance that they showed in each of their four most recent visits will augur well for the challenge that lies ahead this week.

In 2002, Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene belied the usual pre-series assumptions by securing a formidable first-innings lead of 280, before Nasser Hussain's England found the gumption to dig in for the draw. Four years later, the boot was on the other foot as Sri Lanka were forced to follow on, only to rally themselves in a whopping second innings of 537 for 9 - a vital show of resistance in the final analysis, as Muttiah Muralitharan spun them to a series-squaring victory at Trent Bridge in the third Test.

In 2014, their refusal to buckle reaped even greater rewards - England famously thought they'd won the match off the penultimate ball, only for Nuwan Pradeep to successfully overturn his lbw decision. Instead, at Headingley a week later, it was James Anderson who succumbed at the same moment of England's own rearguard to hand Sri Lanka a famous series win.

But it is perhaps the 2011 contest that has most relevance to the week ahead. Now, as then, Sri Lanka head to HQ as a chastened and somewhat demoralised outfit - back then, they'd been crushed in Cardiff after being bowled out for 82 in the second innings of a rain-plagued first Test. But just as they managed in the second innings at Chester-le-Street last week, Sri Lanka found unexpected resilience in their hour of need, and matched England blow-for-blow on a typically flat deck - 486 v 479 in the first innings.

There's no guarantee that Sri Lanka's batsmen will maintain that upward surge, of course. But with the weather finally threatening to break out into summer, and with four innings of proper England Test experience now under their belt - as opposed to the slightly flimsy county opposition that Dimuth Karunaratne was railing against earlier this week - they are as well prepared as they can possibly be for a contest that provides an early raison d'etre for Andrew Strauss's newly incorporated points system. The Test series may be lost already - England are 2-0 up with one to play - but the avoidance of defeat this week will keep the Super Series alive ahead of the one-day leg later in the month.

With Dinesh Chandimal's excellent century underpinning their resistance, Sri Lanka now know they have a means to survive the best that England can throw at them - and it really is the best, given that James Anderson has just succeeded his new-ball partner Stuart Broad as the No.1-ranked bowler in the world. Among Englishmen, only Steve Harmison (2004) and Ian Botham (1980) have ever before held that accolade, which just goes to show how mighty this current partnership is.

But, in Sri Lanka's bowling ranks, the disarray and despondency hasn't been entirely banished. Dushmantha Chameera's zippy pace will be missed on this Lord's surface perhaps more than anywhere else - he flew home earlier in the month with a back injury. And while Shaminda Eranga is available for selection after being reported for a suspect action at Chester-le-Street, the chances are that he won't be exposed to the heightened scrutiny.

The tale of the tour so far doesn't augur well for Sri Lanka's prospects over the next few days. But, as Kumar Sangakkara, their irreplaceable former captain and linchpin, said during the MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture on Monday, this is not a team that can be judged in the here-and-now. Give their young players 18 months to absorb the lessons of a bruising tour, and let's see how they stack up when England next pay a visit to their shores. Nevertheless, as their forebears have demonstrated in the past, the hallowed turf has an uncanny ability to bring out their very best. If England aren't yet forewarned, a quick glance at their recent Lord's history ought to do the trick.

Form guide

England: WWLWD (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LLLLW

In the spotlight

In what is otherwise a pretty buoyant England set-up, two players will be grateful for a few of their Middlesex home comforts this week. Following scratchy starts to the summer, Nick Compton and Steven Finn are under the microscope going into the Lord's Test, although Compton is the only one who is seriously fearing for his future. His failure to make so much as a half-century in 15 first-class innings is weighing heavily on his mind, and when a man as intense as Mark Ramprakash says it's time to loosen up, you know the writing is on the wall. Compton, to be fair, probably hasn't been helped by the lack of competition in the first two Tests. It's hard to appreciate the merits of hard graft when the opposition is being rolled over inside 40 overs on a regular basis. But his only salvation is runs, and lots of them.

Chandimal took the plaudits at Chester-le-Street, but the catalyst for their fightback was provided by Kaushal Silva at the top of the order. His hard-earned 60 from 145 balls atoned for a dismal run of performances by Sri Lanka's openers - his partner, Dimuth Karunaratne, has reached double figures once in four innings - and demonstrated that resistance wasn't entirely futile. It's been an up-and-down few months for Kaushal - he was dropped last year after a run of one fifty in nine innings against Pakistan, India and West Indies. However, he thrived at Lord's on his last visit in 2014 with 63 and 57 in his two innings. He knows he has the game to succeed in England, and he might just have picked up the confidence too.

Teams news

England, unsurprisingly, have opted for an unchanged team. Compton has his chance to shine, Finn keeps Jake Ball waiting once again for a Test debut and Chris Woakes' revelatory pace and incision in Durham means his allrounder's berth remains secure in Ben Stokes' continued absence.

England 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Nick Compton, 4 Joe Root, 5 James Vince, 6 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Steven Finn, 11 James Anderson

More potential upheaval in Sri Lanka's ranks following an injury in training for Milinda Siriwardana, who faces a late fitness test on an ankle problem. Chaminda Bandara, the uncapped left-arm seamer, may step in while Eranga faces up to his bowling action issues, while Dasun Shanaka could also be considered for a recall. Kusal Perera, back with the squad following the overturning of his drugs ban, is an outside bet to challenge the underperforming Lahiru Thirimanne in the middle order.

Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Dimuth Karunaratne, 2 Kaushal Silva, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Lahiru Thirimanne, 7 Dasun Shanaka / Milinda Siriwardana, 8 Rangana Herath, 9 Chaminda Bandara, 10 Nuwan Pradeep 11 Suranga Lakmal

Pitch and conditions

Don't look down, look up. Lord's is one of those venues that can be entirely dictated by the weather. The pitch has been flat as a pancake ever since the installation of its now-decade-old drainage system in 2006 - as the riot of recent centuries on its legendary honours boards can attest. However, the ball still hoops around regardless given the right cloud cover, so we'll all have to wait and see. The week is presumed to be dry, but there's humidity in the offing for Thursday morning. Anderson, for one, won't object to that.

Stats and trivia

  • Stuart Broad needs seven more wickets to become the 22nd bowler, and third from England, to reach 350 in Tests. Only Ian Botham (383) and James Anderson (451) lie ahead of him among Englishmen.

  • With 16 catches in two Tests so far, Jonny Bairstow needs another seven dismissals at Lord's to set a new record for a wicketkeeper in a three-Test series. The record of 22 is held by Sri Lanka's Amal Silva, against India in 1985.

  • Kumar Sangakkara will ring the bell to signal five minutes before the start of play on the first day of the match. He will become the seventh Sri Lankan to be given the honour, following in the footsteps of his team-mates Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Attapattu and Chaminda Vaas who rung the bell in 2014.

Quotes

"It gives people the chance to show what they can do in an England shirt. You want people to feel as comfortable as they can. You are never going to be perfectly comfortable when you're on the periphery. You don't want people always looking over their shoulder. When they get a chance, they get a good one."
Alastair Cook justifies the consistency of selection that has been a hallmark of recent England teams

"Every Test match is a motivation. When you play a Test match at Lord's it's great. I hear the first couple of days are sell-outs. That's more than enough motivation without considering Super Series or anything."
Angelo Mathews isn't getting too excited about the new points system.