Two huge obstacles will confront England's batsmen tomorrow. The first is that they are playing for their one-day careers and the second is that they must do so against the most baffling bowler in the world, who has the back-up of the second and third in that list.
If the team can deal with both issues they might yet go far in the Champions Trophy, thus defying form and precedent. The England captain, Andrew Strauss, made it clear yesterday that starting tomorrow against Sri Lanka, his men have it all to do. Jimmy Anderson, the leader of the bowling attack, was much blunter.
As soon as England finish in this tournament – next Tuesday if they play as badly as they have been, the following week if they at last remember not to leave their talent in the dressing room – the squads for the tour of South Africa will be picked.
Strauss said: "Obviously, the performances of the Australia series and this Champions Trophy will be on the selectors' minds. We are not sure entirely which way we are going to go on that but guys have got three more opportunities to show what they can do. Hopefully, more than three."
If that was plain enough (get some runs or get out was the general interpretation), Anderson told it like it is for batsmen who for three weeks have not known whether to stick or twist, attack or defend, run or walk. "I don't want this to sound horrible but they can't do much worse," he said. "The whole thing about one-day cricket is the top six getting most of the runs. We have got a couple of days now, hopefully they can up their act. Batters know that if they get to 20 they should be going on and getting at least 80 and maybe 100 and that's what we have been missing."
For all that, Strauss said that England would start with a clean slate after their 6-1 defeat in the one-day series against Australia. Trouble is they are up against Ajantha Mendis, Sri Lanka's latest mystery bowler, not to mention Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga.
Mendis has been around world cricket for a year and has made fools of those facing him for the first time, as he did both Graeme Smith, South Africa's estimable captain, and J P Duminy in Sri Lanka's mightily impressive 55-run win on Tuesday night.
Mendis bowls a combination of leg and off spin and his "carrom ball", held between thumb and index finger and flicked with his middle finger, is lethal when not seen before. England have come across him once – in the nets in Dambulla during a one-day series two years ago – and he befuddled them totally.
Strauss hopes the atmosphere generated by a big tournament will help England improve. "One-day cricket has been an ongoing concern for us for a number of years and we are talking about decades rather than a few years. But I am increasingly excited about making big strides in one-day cricket and to do that we need to have a real look at what we have been doing."Reuse content