Whatmore prays Gough will not be fit for England

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The Independent Online

The Sri Lanka coach, Dav Whatmore, hopes that England's Darren Gough fails to prove his fitness for the first Test at Lord's next week – if only to even things up with his side missing the influential presence of Muttiah Muralitharan.

The talented off-spinner is out with a shoulder injury and the Yorkshire pace man Gough is struggling to prove his fitness for England following a troublesome knee problem.

The tourists, who have won their last nine Test matches, know the influence Gough has on the England side and Whatmore said: "It appears he's struggling for the first Test and I'm sure England would miss him as we will miss Murali.

"I think he's important for the England team and he seems to spark them up. His value to the side cannot be underestimated."

Whatmore thinks England will still be a threat even if Gough is absent, believing Nasser Hussain's side are a strong unit in all areas and added: "They have a lot of overall strength. If you take away the 4-1 loss against Australia [last summer], their results stack up pretty well.

"We've won nine in a row but most people would have probably expected those results and this is going to be a tough test for us."

The Sri Lanka captain, Sanath Jayasuriya, admits that the loss of Muralitharan is a significant blow, but refuses to be downbeat about the situation and will look to Chaminda Vaas to take much of the bowling responsibility once battle commences on 16 May.

"We miss Murali badly but we've got Chaminda who is coming close to 200 Test wickets and he has a lot of experience in Test match cricket. How much he bowls depends on whether we go with three fast bowlers or four fast bowlers," the 32-year-old said.

Jayasuriya admitted he has still to decide on the bowling attack he wants at his disposal at Lord's, claiming the remainder of the match with Durham and the final warm-up game against Middlesex at Shenley will play a significant part in determining who is selected.

The left-armers Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa seem certain to be charged with the responsibility of taking the new ball, but a number of players are in contention for the other bowling places. One of those is Ruchira Perera, who failed to impress as Durham closed on 219 for 4 at the end of the first day at Chester-le-Street yesterday.

However, Whatmore insists Sri Lanka would have no hesitation in playing him if he is in form, despite the fact that he is another left-armer.

"It would be unusual but sometimes it happens like that. No one says anything about South Africa having all right-armers. If they are the best three [Vaas, Zoysa, Perera] they will play. [But] there is a bit of bowling here and at Shenley to be done before we pick our combination for the Test."

Jayasuriya was in agreement with the coach and added: "Our batting order is all right but we are still undecided on the bowling. That's why these games are important and we just want the fast bowlers to be giving it a go."

Sri Lanka's bowlers did little to suggest they will strike fear into the England batsmen in the first Test next week during the rain-interrupted first day against Durham. Despite an impressive opening burst by Chaminda Vaas, who claimed two early victims to reduce Durham to 17 for 2 at one stage, the tourists failed to bowl with any consistent accuracy.

The England one-day international Paul Collingwood hit a grand unbeaten 103 to let the selectors know he is capable of building an innings in the longer format of the game. The 25-year-old looked in command from the moment he arrived at the crease and his first century of the season came off 119 balls with 14 fours and two sixes.

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