Collingwood struggling to find balance

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The Independent Online

England have no idea what their team might be for the one-day series against Sri Lanka. Since the first of the five matches is on Monday this might be cutting it fine, and it is to be hoped for their sake that their plans begin to crystallise after the sole warm-up match today against a side called the Tamil Union.

It is bad enough that Sri Lanka have won seven of the past eight matches between the sides and that England have not beaten Sri Lanka away in a one-dayer for a quarter of a century. Only a smidgeon of the indecision has been caused by the stomach virus that had struck a third of the players, but now appears to be subsiding.

Paul Collingwood, the captain, said yesterday: "I've looked at about 20 teams so far from the squad we've got and it's very hard to nail one down." This was hardly pushing the mathematical limit of possible combinations of 11 from a squad of 15 but Collingwood might hope to have whittled it down a tad by this evening.

Part of the problem is the absence of Andrew Flintoff, who was again the spectre at the feast as the series, to be sponsored somewhat unexpectedly by Bradford and Bingley who have no connections whatever in Sri Lanka, was officially launched yesterday.

"I've always said he is two players in one and it's obviously disappointing not to have him," said Collingwood. "Sometimes it's hard to get the balance right, whether to take an extra batsman in and get away with myself and Ravi Bopara as bowlers, or get an extra spinner in. But by the end of this we will have learned a lot."

If England have a selectorial conundrum, Sri Lanka, the World Cup finalists, are not without riddles of their own. It seems that their champion bowler, Muttiah Muralitharan will miss at least the first two matches because of the shoulder injury which forced his absence from the World Twenty20.

England cold-shouldered this notion, as it were, presuming it to be part of the usual baloney in the days before the series and are planning – as much as you can ever plan – to face Murali. But should it turn out that Murali is unfit Sri Lanka's new coach, the down-to-earth Australian Trevor Bayliss, confirmed that his replacement would be Kaushal Lokuarachchi, a leg-spinner with 30 wickets in his 19 previous appearances. No pressure Kaushal.

England's spinner will be Monty Panesar, who has deeply impressed Collingwood in the nets. "I think he's recognised the importance of changing his pace and bowling a slower ball with the arm at the same speed," he said.

Conceding that the Twenty20 specialists in South Africa had changed the dynamic of the dressing room, he was clearly pleased that the squad who beat India in a one-day series earlier this month back in England is back together. "Sometimes you come to places and are beaten before you go out on the field. But there's a lot of self-belief in here and we believe we can win."

If, presumably, they can find a team.