Wednesday, July 6, Trent Bridge
Start time 2.00pm (1300 GMT)
If Alastair Cook felt leading England's one-day ramshackle was a tough ask he'd do well to listen to Kumar Sangakkara's MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture. Yes, stretching five top-three batsman into a top six is difficult, but far simpler than confronting the kind of political wranglings Sri Lankan captains are subjected to.
Despite the numerous unwelcome and conflicting influences on Sri Lanka's set up, the team still manages to remain remarkably clear-headed in their approach to limited-overs cricket. After cruising to victory in the last two games they can wrap up the series at Trent Bridge. Given that they arrived in England with their two best players still at the IPL, a new captain, no vice-captain and an interim coach - not to mention all the problems Sangakkara discussed - two trophies out of the three on offer would be a fantastic effort. In one-day cricket everyone in the team has a clearly-defined role, backs themselves to stick to it, and the results follow.
How Cook and Andy Flower must long for such clarity. In the two 50-over matches this series England have reverted to the kind of muddled ODI outfit that has epitomised their cricket through the last two decades. Batsmen too ponderous, bowlers too monotonous, tactics too obvious. Theories have abounded from all corners on how best to remedy the problems, though, after just three games as full-time captain, Cook might feel he deserves some time to develop his own.
It's a measure of just how strong willed Cook is that, while watching his team lurch to failure at Lord's, he managed to stick to his own game and deliver his seventh hundred in 16 international innings. Yet, as his muted celebration pointed to, his own game is not quite strong enough to carry his team. In conditions as batsman-friendly as Lord's was on Sunday, steering the innings with a 143-ball 119 was an antiquated luxury. It is likely Cook will develop a game to better those kind of numbers, but until then he needs his team-mates to help him out.
While it's difficult to deny the class of Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan and Ian Bell as individuals, collectively they keep underperforming. They talk continuously about 'fearless cricket' but only Morgan and Pietersen live up to the words, the rest play consistently in a way that betrays the precise opposite. The comparison between 21-year-old Dinesh Chandimal merrily slapping boundaries and Bell - a batsman in the form of his life - tortuously grinding out singles was instructive.
A collective caution has gripped England and something needs to break that. Paul Collingwood managed it in the last Champions Trophy and England's best period of recent ODI cricket followed. If this combination, in this order, is what the selectors have put their faith in, than the personnel need to follow Collingwood's example of selflessly adapting to the task asked of them. If they don't, change has to follow.
It's not just Cook with things on his mind, though. England's other limited-overs captain, Stuart Broad, is in the midst of the toughest period of his career. Like a legspinner who becomes so enamoured with the googly that the stock-ball goes missing, Broad is stuck in bumper mode. As he showed in an accomplished spell to Chandimal at Lord's, he does indeed posses a good bouncer but without anything else to offer he is proving completely ineffective. He's lived his bowling adolescence in the international spotlight, perhaps maturity would be found in county cricket.
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Such is the recent history of England's one-day wicketkeeping merry-go-round, it won't take many failures for Craig Kieswetter to find his position under scrutiny. He is meant to be the motor to Cook's rudder at the top of England's line-up but in the games they have played together, Cook's strike-rate of 88.64 is marginally ahead of Kieswetter's 87.60. At Lord's, Kieswetter managed 3 from 13 balls, digging a crater that England were unable to lift themselves out of. At Trent Bridge if he can start with a flurry, Cook and the rest of the team will feel much more comfortable.
Kumar Sangakkara again demonstrated how deeply impressive a character he is with his MCC lecture. Already the fall-out from that speech has "disturbed a hornets nest" back home, according to the state-run Lankapuvath news agency in Sri Lanka. Having been brave enough to pen and deliver such powerful words, a match-winning innings would be the least he deserves.
England could as easily make four changes as none at Trent Bridge. Twice Graeme Swann has been England's best bowler and both times Cook has been unable to back him up with another slow bowler. If they can trust Samit Patel, on his home ground, with eight overs he could replace Stuart Broad - in doing so bolstering England's late-order hitting - but Broad has been publicly backed by his captain. England's attack lacked incisiveness on flat decks at Headingley and Lord's but a day-night game on a pitch that will offer a bit for the quicks could well remedy that.
England (probable) 1 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 2 Alastair Cook (capt), 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Ian Bell, 7 Tim Bresnan, 8 Graeme Swann, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 James Anderson, 11 Jade Dernbach.
With Dinesh Chandimal proving his ability at Lord's, Sri Lanka have almost all their places in order and will be reluctant to meddle. Thilina Kandamby remains a curiosity but while results stay good he can float under the radar.
The last two games have been played in the kind of sunny, benign conditions that England find most hostile. Trent Bridge, however, should suit them much better. Swing, a bit of nibble, and the chill of night cricket in Nottingham could well conspire to help England to victory. Added to that there are a few spots of rain about overnight which may not clear in time for the match.