Ford calls for better county opposition

Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford has echoed the sentiments of opener Dimuth Karunaratne, suggesting his team's approach to the series has been less than ideal.

Sri Lanka played two practice matches against Essex and Leicestershire in the weeks before the first Test, but Karunaratne said the opposition attacks had not sufficiently prepared Sri Lanka for facing England's bowlers. Essex and Leicestershire are Division Two county sides, and in any case had not fielded their best XIs for the encounter. In contrast, teams visiting Sri Lanka generally play a strong Board XI side, usually featuring players on the fringe of the Test team.

"All of you would appreciate that facing Anderson and Broad at Headingley is as tough as it gets," Ford said. "I think the Leicester attack was all second-teamers. Essex had a couple of first-teamers and they bowled quite well. The step I think was quite a shock to our lads."

Ford, who coached Surrey in their past two county seasons, said he understood the challenges facing counties asked to provide practice opposition to visiting teams.

"I guess ideally it would have been better if we had one or two more games. Maybe the first one we start off at a gentle pace and play against a county team, and then you play against opposition that's close to international standards. But cricket is so busy these days, and I fully appreciate that the county season is hectic. I don't think it's ideal, but we have to make the most of what we get."

Sri Lanka have several selection decisions to make before naming their XI for the Test, with the pace attack substantially depleted, and at least three batsmen contending for the No. 7 batting position. One of those batsmen, Kusal Perera, said he felt "in good touch" after returning to training following a five-month hiatus, and Ford felt Perera would be up to playing at Lord's if required. The batsman had resumed training on May 13, and had only arrived in England on June 4, owing to visa delays. He is highly unlikely to take the gloves at Lord's.

"It is a test for Kusal, having been out of cricket for as long as he has," Ford said. "It's not going to be easy but he is an extremely classy player. Classy players sometimes find a way even if they have been out of the team. Maybe it takes a little bit of luck just to get themselves in, but if he gets in, he is a special player.

"I would have no problem selecting him. Each day he's trained, he's hit the ball better. I'm sure he's up for it. In a way with everything that has gone on in his life mentally, he might really be up for getting out there and performing well. From here on he'll appreciate every day that he gets on the field. If he gets a chance to make a comeback at the greatest venue in the world, I'm sure he'll be grabbing it with both hands."

On the bowling front, Sri Lanka have four seamers on tour, of which three are likely to play at Lord's. Complicating the decision is the cloud over Shaminda Eranga's action. He was reported for a suspect action following the second Test, and underwent a biomechanical test at Loughborough on Monday. He is free to play until the results are made public - probably in the next fortnight. Ford suggested Sri Lanka were unlikely to allow the doubts over his action affect selection.

"I think Eranga has worked so hard through the tour and bowled reasonably well," he said. "So until such time as the result comes out and we know one way or another, I think we've got to treat everything as normal and get on with it. I think we've given him enough support as far as the mental side of things is concerned. So he certainly will be considered for selection."

If Sri Lanka choose to make changes to their attack, 29-year-old left-armer Chaminda Bandara is in line for a Test debut. Bandara had also arrived on June 4, but may provide versatility to the seam attack, not just with the left-arm angle, but also by bringing the ball in to right-handed batsmen.

"Bandara gives us something completely different," Ford said. "I think one of the criticisms we had of the attack is that they are all fairly similar - similar pace, right arm, and generally trying to shape it out a bit. There's no real variation in the pace unit. He's something for us to consider - to throw in something different."