At 32 degrees Celsius Colombo is currently in the middle of a cold snap but the heat will be on England's bowlers to impress from the moment they lace up their boots this morning. Michael Vaughan's side arrived in the Sri Lankan capital yesterday evening with the captain stressing how important it is for the team to start well, and nowhere is competition for places fiercer than amongst England's bowlers.
On previous overseas tours the make-up of England's bowling attack has been fairly predictable but on this trip those who can stir the selectors during the next fortnight will fill the four or five available places. Monty Panesar appears to be the only bowler certain to play in Kandy on 1 December after Peter Moores, the England coach, confirmed that he enters the three Test series against Sri Lanka as the team's premier spinner.
Modern tours give teams little time to acclimatise and England have only six days of competitive cricket before they line up against Muttiah Muralitharan and Co. And with the selectors likely to pick their Test side for the final three-day warm-up game in Colombo, Ryan Sidebottom, James Anderson, Matthew Hoggard, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Stephen Harmison – who is expected to arrive from South Africa early next week – have no time to lose.
"You always have permutations of teams and how the bowlers will fit in running through your head," said Moores within minutes of arriving at the team hotel, "and what has been nice is that the lads that have come in [whilst senior players have been injured] have bowled well. As we go through the build-up we will see how people are bowling and how they knit together, but we will still have some tough decisions to make. We want to make sure that our best players are ready for the first Test."
It is not inconceivable for England to enter the first Test without a member of the 2005 Ashes winning attack. This has happened before but on previous occasions it has been due to injury. Neither Hoggard or Harmison have been dropped since those days and the chances of both being omitted in Kandy seem slim.
"What your pedigree is as a cricketer will influence selection and you pick the 11 blokes who can best win a game of cricket for England," said Moores. "In Hoggard and Harmison, providing he comes through his final match in South Africa, we have two experienced bowlers and the three other seamers in the squad came here and did well in the one-day series. They have upped the ante just a little bit, but this is a very good thing because it has made it very competitive.
"Monty is certainly our No 1 spinner. Graeme did well in the one-day games but he has still got stuff to do. Monty has proved that he is an outstanding Test match bowler over the last couple of years. He takes his wickets at 30 a piece, which is very good for a finger spinner."
Harmison claimed nine wickets in the first of two trial games for the Highveld Lions and should this form continue in the current match (he is yet to bowl) he may well leap ahead of those currently in Sri Lanka.
"I spoke to Stephen before I left England and he is in good spirits," said Moores. "He is happy with the progress he has made and feels that he is bowling fit and that all he needs is a bit of fine tuning. The signs are looking very good but we will reassess things at the end of the current game. He knows that it is not just about being fit, it is about being ready to be picked for a Test match."
To give Harmison as much bowling as possible England will ask the Sri Lankan representatives to make the first warm-up match, which starts on Tuesday, as flexible as possible. The game is expected to be a non first-class 13 or 14-a-side affair.
l The England bowler Liam Plunkett, currently playing for South African side Dolphins against Harmison's Highveld Lions, took 3 for 23 with a mere three no-balls yesterday.Reuse content