Out of the gloom that has followed Sri Lanka on much of their tour of England this summer shone a ray of sunshine yesterday afternoon.
In a corner of Edgbaston, Muttiah Muralitharan, the tourists' talismanic spinner, was seen not only bowling but also having a 10-minute bat. With every hour it seems more likely that the world's No 1 bowler will play in the second Test which begins here today. Even with an ice pack placed on his dislocated left shoulder it could plainly be seen through the smiles on the faces of Muralitharan, the bowling coach, Daryl Foster, and the physiotherapist, Alex Kontouri, they were happy with what had happened.
Sanath Jayasuriya and Dav Whatmore, the Sri Lankan captain and coach respectively, stated they would naturally love to play him but are still concerned that further damage could put him out of action for three or four months. In the end the decision will be Muralitharan's and it is hard to see him, with his passion for the game, saying no.
And it is the possible presence of Muralitharan that could do most to help Warwickshire celebrate 100 years of Test cricket here in style. The festivities seem low-key apart from the opening of the new, impressive looking Eric Hollies stand this morning.
Nasser Hussain and his England side will hope this addition does not change too much an atmosphere they have come to enjoy. Hussain feels the Edgbaston Test provides "probably the most interesting week's cricket of the season" and because of this he has a couple of major decisions to make.
The first is the final make-up of his side and whether to play four bowlers or five. Playing five bowlers – four seamers and a spinner – at the expense of a batsman, probably John Crawley, doesn't weaken the batting too much with Alec Stewart coming in at six and Andrew Flintoff at seven. It is, however, the amount of bowling the fifth bowler does that will concern Hussain, but with 20 wickets needed to be taken a more adventurous approach may prove profitable on a pitch that will encourage spinners more than Lord's.
The toss will be his next reason to fret as the groundsman, Steve Rouse, is concerned about the pitch. Birmingham has had two and a half inches of rain in the last week and Hussain will expect the ball to seam around should play start on time this morning, although rain is forecast.
It is not an inevitability that the winner of the toss will bowl first even though it will take a very brave captain to bat having looked at Edgbaston's recent history. Eight of the last 10 Tests have been lost by the side batting first and only one Test – against New Zealand in 1990 – in the last 20 years has been won by the side batting first.
This pitch, however, looks very similar to the one played on against South Africa in 1998 where England, put in to bat, scored 462 and would have won the game if it wasn't for rain. The dilemma Hussain faces is whether your batsmen would rather face on a pitch that offers seam movement early on, or one that gets inconsistent in bounce towards the end? Add to this the Muralitharan factor and once again it could be a good toss to lose.
Whoever ends up fielding first would love to emulate the performance of England 100 years and one day ago. In the first Test match at Edgbaston England bowled Australia out for 36, a score that still stands as their lowest in Test cricket.
ENGLAND (Second Test, Edgbaston today, 11.0, probable): M E Trescothick, M P Vaughan, M A Butcher, *N Hussain, G P Thorpe, ÝA J Stewart, A Flintoff, A J Tudor, A F Giles, A R Caddick, M J Hoggard.
SRI LANKA (probable): *S T Jayasuriya, *M A Atapattu, ÝK Sangakkara, H A P W Jayawardene, P A de Silva, R P Arnold, H P Tillekeratne, W P U J C Vaas, D N T Zoysa, T C B Fernando, T T Samaraweera, M Muralitharan.
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