England have conveniently managed to avoid playing Sri Lanka at the Oval in any form of cricket since 1998, when Muttiah Muralitharan claimed 16 wickets to secure his side only their second Test victory outside of Asia. Sri Lanka claimed their second Test victory in England at Trent Bridge earlier this month, when Muralitharan took eight second-innings wickets and, unsurprisingly, he will be the bowler that Andrew Strauss's side fear most when they return to the scene of the spinner's greatest triumph today for the second NatWest Series match of the summer.
Muralitharan's performance eight years ago is not the only occasion when he has bamboozled batsmen in south London. The Oval has proved a happy hunting ground for Murali, who has 34 wickets from three first-class appearances here.
Yet it is not just the way in which England's batsmen negotiate Muralitharan that will decide the outcome of what is a must-win game for the hosts. If England are to have any chance of levelling the five-match series they will need to improve all aspects of their cricket. During Saturday's 20-run defeat at Lord's England's batsmen and bowlers lacked discipline and the fielders will need to convey far more energy and enthusiasm to the crowd if they are to prevent them from leaving early to watch a certain World Cup football match.
At the start of Sri Lanka's tour there were fears that the less-than-taxing nature of the cricket may cause England's players to become complacent, but an indication of how far the home side has fallen can be gauged from the fact that this is now a concern for Tom Moody, the tourists coach.
"Obviously, England's confidence is down in one-day cricket because they have not had a great deal of success," said Moody. "But the last thing we can do as a team is become complacent, and I will be telling my team that we need to improve on how we played at Lord's. Saturday's was an OK performance but we need to build on it.
"I feel we can play better than we did. We ought to have scored 30 runs more when we were batting and pushed 300, and our fielding could have been better. We set ourselves high standards in the field and there are a couple of areas we need to polish up on.
"If we can improve on Lord's and the areas where we were not right the result will take care of itself, and it will be hard for England to get back into the series. If we can win this one-day series, and there is a long way to go, we will fly home a satisfied team."
The Oval is a ground that brings back pleasant memories for England's Jamie Dalrymple, who scored a career-best 244 here for Middlesex against Surrey in 2004. Dalrymple was picked in England's one-day squad predominantly for his spin bowling but it was with the bat that he impressed most on Saturday. Indeed, it was his well-compiled 67 that offered the greatest encouragement on what was otherwise a pretty depressing day.
Dalrymple bowled quite well at Lord's, too, and was unfortunate not to send down more than five overs during the Sri Lankan innings. It would be ridiculous to expect him to compete with Muralitharan, one of the greatest bowlers cricket has seen but, during the remaining four matches, it is important for Dalrymple to prove to himself and the selectors that he can compete at this level as a bowler, too.
Dalrymple's batting will give him another chance to stake a late claim for England's World Cup squad, and it would be a surprise to see Duncan Fletcher, the coach, make wholesale changes to the side that lost at the weekend. It is not England's way, so Ian Bell and Sajid Mahmood can look forward to at least one more outing. What Fletcher will be wanting to see is greater control from his bowlers. England's batsmen scored more runs than Sri Lanka's in the first match and it was the 42 extras they conceded that cost them the match.
Prior to Saturday's match the spin-friendly nature of the Oval pitch may have encouraged Sri Lanka to play the leg-break bowler Malinga Bandara but the win, along with the excellent fast bowling of Lasith Malinga and Dilhara Fernando means they are unlikely to make any changes to their team.
Probable teams: England: A J Strauss (capt), M E Trescothick, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, J W M Dalrymple, G O Jones (wkt), T T Bresnan, L E Plunkett, S I Mahmood, S J Harmison.
Sri Lanka: D P M D Jayawardene (capt), S T Jayasuriya, W U Tharanga, K C Sangakkara (wkt), T M Dilshan, R P Arnold, C K Kapugedera, W P U J C Vaas, S L Malinga, C R D Fernando, M Muralitharan.Reuse content