Michael Vaughan's side demonstrated many of the attributes England supporters enjoy watching in their national team during the courageous draw in the first Test. More, however, will be required if they are to win this series. During the final two Tests England need to show they can dominate games as well as successfully hang on to the shirt-tails of the opposition.
The good news for the tourists is that they expect to be selecting from a full squad of 17 for tomorrow's game. Nasser Hussain and Ashley Giles seem to have shaken off a debilitating virus and James Anderson has fully recovered from his twisted ankle. England's only worry is Richard Johnson who is still feeling weak with the gastric problem which troubled him during the first Test.
"Nasser has declared himself fit," said Vaughan after watching the former England captain come through a net and training session. "He will bat at four. Giles will be all right. His illness is not a problem now and he is just having a bit of time off to recover. He did a lot of bowling last week and today's practice was optional. He will be practising here tomorrow [today]."
It was at the Asgiriya International Stadium, an old school ground in the Kingdom of Kandy, that England managed to change the course of their Test series against Sri Lanka three years ago. Following a heavy defeat in Galle England sneaked home by three wickets at a venue with a reputation for helping the quicker bowlers. Hussain scored a belligerent 109 and Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick and Craig White shared 17 wickets.
The groundsman, however, appears to be doing all he can to prevent history repeating itself. "The pitch is different from last time," Vaughan said. "Three years ago it was firm but this one is damp. Two days of sun will dry it out but I expect it to be slower and to help the spinners a little bit more."
Though playing three seamers may seem a luxury it is unlikely these conditions will force England to change the balance of their side but the selectors have a difficult decision to make about the pacemen who accompany Andrew Flintoff. In Galle, Matthew Hoggard and Johnson looked ineffective and the Lancashire all-rounder was by far England's best fast bowler.
The climate may be cooler here in the hill country but Flintoff will need greater help from his fellow pace bowlers if England are to take control of this game through bowling Sri Lanka out cheaply in their first innings. With this in mind there is a strong case for Anderson playing even though he has not bowled in a match since the first one-day international three weeks ago.
Anderson's bowling is a little less consistent than that of Hoggard and Johnson but the Lancastrian is a proven wicket-taker. And with Flintoff, Giles and Gareth Batty giving Vaughan control he is a risk worth taking.
Though it is unlikely, it would not be a huge surprise if England played both James Kirtley and Anderson in this Test. This is the first time England will have played three back-to-back Test matches and such changes would ensure that Vaughan has two fresh bowlers in this game and four to pick from in the final encounter in Colombo.
Vaughan did not rule out the possibility of Paul Collingwood playing in this match but Hussain's recall appears certain to be at his expense. "This does not mean Collingwood won't play because we may go into this match with six batters," the England captain said. "Runs are very important but we also have to take 20 wickets. We have a hard decision to make." Runs are a commodity Vaughan could do with during the remainder of this series. At the start of his reign as captain the run of low scores could be viewed as a blip but there now must be a genuine fear among the England hierarchy that the job is having a negative effect on his batting.
As a captain Vaughan is progressing nicely but as one of the few England players capable of dominating matches his runs are vital. In the 15 Tests he played before he took charge his 1,739 runs came at an average of 72.5 and contained eight hundreds. Since Hussain's resignation he has scored only 380 runs at an average of 29 in seven games.
It is considered difficult for a bowler to be captain but it must be impossible for an opening bat to get his mind right in the 10 minutes he has between innings. Vaughan will continue to open in this series but England must consider slipping him down the order in the West Indies should he fail to crack it here.
England have their problems but so do a Sri Lankan side who appear reliant on Muttiah Muralitharan for their wickets. This an area England could exploit through being more positive against what is, bar Murali and Chaminda Vaas, a moderate attack. "Being positive against their other bowlers is something we will discuss and is maybe something we will try but it is up to each batsman to work out their game plan," Vaughan said.Reuse content