Lovely finish but bigger Tests await

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The Independent Online

The first part of England's cricketing winter went into meltdown with a 3-0 hammering by Pakistan, but the green shoots of springtime recovery arrived just in time yesterday when victory over Sri Lanka earned them a drawn series.

But the two Andrews at the helm of English cricket – captain Strauss and coach Flower – won't be under any illusions that the corner has been turned (certainly in terms of dealing with the turning ball), with bigger and better Tests awaiting during the rest of 2012.

Even a below-par England should be able to deal comfortably with West Indies, who play three Tests here, starting in the middle of May, when they could be playing in cool conditions on green-top surfaces which will certainly not suit the men from the Caribbean.

Then comes the main course. Three Tests (and why only three, when a five-Test series would be perfect?) against South Africa, the world No 1 ranking being put on the line in a winner-takes-all scenario. The other quibble about this series is that the Second Test – at Headingley – falls slap-bang in the middle of the Olympics, when the eyes of the world will hardly be on Leeds.

The likelihood is that from the team that beat Sri Lanka yesterday, only Samit Patel will make way for the West Indies series. A personal hunch is that Ravi Bopara will finally get another chance to bat at No 6 – with his bowling coming in handy – allowing Matt Prior to drop down to his rightful place at No 7.

The only other issue will be whether Stuart Broad replaces Steve Finn or Tim Bresnan, who will surely be difficult to drop now that his Test record is Played 11, Won 11.

The two batsmen under most pressure – Strauss and Ian Bell – know they need runs against South Africa. After that series, England travel to India for four Tests. That is when we will discover if England's batsmen have learnt any lessons on how to play spin. Of course, if the South Africa series has gone pear-shaped, it could be a new set of batsmen heading for the subcontinent.

England's bowlers, who were brilliant all winter, will fancy their chances against an Indian battingline-up which, although brilliant on paper, has been in steady decline.

World Test rankings


England 44/5,124/116

South Africa 32/3,709/116

India 46/5,111/111

Australia 42/4,655/111

Pakistan 35/3,781/108

Sri Lanka 38/3,780/99

West Indies 30/2,604/87

New Zealand 28/2,366/85

Bangladesh 18/135/8