England intent on repeating the ruthlessness of Cardiff victory

The ambition of Andrew Strauss's men to be No 1 is backed by a knack for exposing rivals' frailties
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The Independent Online

Everything changed last Monday in Cardiff. A match that was drifting to a draw and a series that promised to be close were suddenly transformed. In barely two hours, England dismissed Sri Lanka for 82 to win by an innings and 14 runs to confirm that their ambition to be the world's No 1 side is accompanied by the ruthlessness needed to make it possible.

The tourists might have collapsed in a heap but it was England who sensed there were frailties to be exploited and did so with brutal efficiency. Although Andrew Strauss, England's captain, was reluctant to use metaphors applying to bodily parts – such as putting the foot on the Sri Lankan throat, or rubbing their noses in it – that is what his side are now intent on doing.

Given the disarray that so quickly enveloped Sri Lanka it is difficult to suggest that they can come back after only three days. The pitch at Lord's for the second Test, which begins today, is likely to have more life and carry than that in Wales and England have the bowlers at their disposal to disrupt Sri Lanka.

Perhaps it will not be achieved so spectacularly, and it comes with the caveat that Sri Lanka's top five still contains some mighty performers, but it is clear that England are equipped for Test cricket in areas that their opponents are not.

England won the opening match because they fully understood that Test matches are played over five days. The last of them, like the first four, had been curtailed but when play at last started three hours late, England went out thinking they had perhaps a five per cent chance of forcing a win.

It was not the smallness of the opportunity that mattered, it was that they knew they had one. And when the third wicket fell in the first over after tea – the prized Mahela Jayawardene – they knew precisely where they were going. Test matches, England understood in a way that their opponents completely overlooked, need permanent attention.

Nor was it coincidence. It was the fifth time in the past 10 Test matches that England had bowled out their opponents for a double figure score – three times against Pakistan last summer, once against Australia last winter – and all five matches have been won.

There has never been an English sequence like this for more than half a century. In five consecutive Test matches spanning 1957 and 1958, England seven times bowled out their opponents (West Indies and a wretchedly weak New Zealand) for double-figure scores on pitches that were then uncovered.

For 21 years between 1979 and 2000, they never managed it once. Although there was a flurry of double-figure activity around the turn of the millennium this is something special which speaks of a competitive edge and a well-balanced attack.

"I think our bowling has had a lot of success against a number of different sides recently so I think it would be wrong to say those sides were poor batting units," said England's captain, Andrew Strauss, yesterday. "There's a real confidence in our bowling unit. As a group they believe they are a match for anyone now, which is a great mindset to have and the basis of it has been all four of the bowlers probing and asking questions all the time. It's not been about blasting teams out.

"I thought the first innings in Cardiff, although we didn't bowl brilliantly, a lot of balls passed the edge and we could have bowled them out cheaply on another day. In the second innings a lot of things went our way and we had that great result. So I think if our bowling unit keeps sticking to its principles we are going to have more good days than bad."

Starting at Lord's maybe. Despite the wonderful climax at Cardiff, there is an unmistakable sense that the real international season begins today. Sophia Gardens was never more than half-full and at the business end of the match it was almost empty. The wisdom of staging the match there could be called into question at every turn.

By contrast, the first three days at Lord's are all but sell-outs. Since England began the questionable schedule of seven Test matches in summer in 2000, Lord's has always been the scene of the first. Thus, no matter the opposition, it always had the trappings of a big occasion.

The players from both sides will feel it too, whereas at Sophia Gardens, they might well have felt as if they were stepping out on to a park ground. If the occasion got to Sri Lanka on Monday, there is no telling what might happen as they go through the Long Room today.

At the simplest, they need one of their big guns, Jayawardene or Kumar Sangakkara to fire. Neither has grand records in England, though Jayawardene (average in England 37.86, compared with a career average of 53.33) has been inspired by Lord's, scoring hundreds in both his Test matches there. In 14 innings in England, Sangakkara has a top score of 66 and an average of 27.77, rather less than his career mean of 56.64.

The tourists have managed draws in the most recent two of their five Test matches at Lord's. Both times they were indebted to Jayawardene's hundreds, though five years ago, England, after enforcing the follow-on, put down nine chances.

By the time the second innings came round in Cardiff there was a slickness to England's work that bodes well. But this is an important match for Kevin Pietersen. He is being given what appears to be the undying support of his colleagues, but it is in nobody's interest to continue the ego massaging indefinitely.

Strauss echoed yesterday the words of the coach Andy Flower earlier in the week to the effect that Pietersen is in a good place mentally and they expect him to have a successful summer. Pietersen needs runs, he needs them quickly.

It is bilge to suggest that his career lately has been conducted along world-class lines and in his past 33 innings since the start of the 2009 summer he has scored one century and averages below 40. Doubts are growing and it is time he silenced them.

How Sri Lanka can avoid defeat

Make big runs in first innings

Win the toss and score plenty of runs as they did in their maiden Test at Lord's 27 years ago and again in 2002. It would at least make them immune to defeat. Key to this will be their big guns Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.



Use two spinners with imagination

Play two spinners in the hope that conditions will favour them at least in stopping England from scoring quickly. True, the loss of Muttiah Muralitharan (and the left-arm swinger Chaminda Vaas) is depressingly debilitating, but they need rigour and imagination now.



Don't switch off

Ensure that they keep their minds on the game for the full five days. Part of the reason they are 1-0 down is because they thought they had the draw in Cardiff, forgetting that 51 overs can be an eternity.

Get on the road more

In the longer term, travel more. It is not simply that one-day cricket is much more important to them but they have played too much in home conditions (only three of the last 27 Tests away from the subcontinent) and it shows in their performances.

Stephen Brenkley

Lord's: Second Test details

Probable teams:

England A J Strauss (capt), A N Cook, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, E J G Morgan, M J Prior (wk), S C J Broad, G P Swann, C T Tremlett, S T Finn.

Sri Lanka TM Dilshan (capt), N T Paranavitana, KC Sangakkara, D P M D Jayawardene, T T Samaraweera, H A P W Jayawardene (wk), M F Maharoof, N L T C Perera, HKS Randiv, H M R K B Herath, C R D Fernando.

Match details:

Odds England 4-6; draw 15-8; Sri Lanka 6-1

Umpires Billy Doctrove (WI) and Rod Tucker (Aus).

Third umpire Aleem Dar (Pak).

Fourth umpire Richard Illingworth (Eng).

Match referee Javagal Srinath (Ind).

TV coverage Sky Sports 1, HD 1, 10.30am-7pm. Highlights Channel 5, 7-8pm.

Weather Likely to be mainly sunny with a light breeze, and a maximum temperature of 24C.

Pitch report It will be dry, faster than Cardiff and likely to be lively enough to produce a result. Following six successive draws, there have been five positive outcomes, four of them wins for England.

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