England face tough test against Sri Lanka

Two huge obstacles will confront England's batsmen on Friday. 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. Andrew Strauss made it clear today that starting Friday 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. “They know exactly what they have got to do. The whole thing about one day cricket is the top six getting most of the runs.

“We have got a couple of days now, they can look really hard at what their role is and 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 will start with a clean slate after their 6-1 defeat by Australia in the NatWest Series. 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 JP Duminy in Sri Lanka's mightily impressive 55 run win on Tuesday night.

He 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 only once - in their nets in Dambulla during their one-day series two years ago - and he befuddled them totally.

Since the heady days of the Oval and the Ashes triumph, England have been feeble and Strauss only hopes that the atmosphere generated by a big tournament - all the teams are staying in the same hotel - will help.

“That Test match victory at The Oval will live with us for a long time and we should rightly be proud of our achievements there,” said Strauss. “One day cricket has been an ongoing concern for us for a number of years now though 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 in order to do that we need to have a real look at what we have been doing in practice and in the middle. It is a good project to be involved in and moving forward as a group.” It would be some way to start it by defeating Sri Lanka tomorrow.