It’s time for a bold statement. It doesn’t particularly matter what specific XI England pick at Kandy nor the order they bat in. We will win the match (weather permitting) and go on to win the series comfortably.
And now for the caveat: England will win comfortably unless Sri Lanka improve big time. The problem for the hosts is that I can’t see this happening. They’re in complete disarray. Herath has retired, Chandimal is injured and will miss the rest of the series, and Dananjaya has been reported for a suspect action.
Personally I was hoping the latter would play as he looked completely innocuous in Galle. If you’re going to bowl illegally you might as well get some advantage from it. Oooops. Did i just write that if you’re going to break the rules you might as well break them big time? I guess I did. A certain Pakistani off-spinner would be proud of me.
Anyway, just because England are going to win by something like an innings and five hundred runs doesn’t mean we can’t while away the pre-match hours by speculating what team Bayliss and Co are going to field. After all, this kind of thing matters. How England set up in this match will probably be a sign of things to come – if not necessarily in the Ashes then certainly in the West Indies.
The big talking point, of course, is the fitness of Jonny Bairstow. If he plays then he’ll almost certainly play as a specialist batsman as Ben Foakes should (and will in my opinion) retain his spot after his heroics in the first test. There was some talk of Jonny replacing Foakes but I just don’t see how this can be good management. If you jettison players after man of the match performances then it sends out all the wrong signals.
Had Jonny been in excellent form last summer, or belonged to the Adam Gilchrist ‘all time great’ bracket, then we might be having a rather different conversation at this point. The cold hard truth, however, is that Jonny has struggled at times in recent tests; therefore it’s probably his turn to wait patiently on the sidelines.
Although I feel sorry for Jonny, especially as I think his test form has been adversely affected by his white ball success, there’s little room for sentiment in international cricket – unless your name is Sachin Tendulkar, Alastair Cook, or someone else who is so loved by ordinary supporters and the media that special rules apply. Bairstow, alas, doesn’t enjoy the same luxury.
There has been some talk that Bairstow could play as a specialist opener ahead of Rory Burns. In fact, I heard Simon Hughes advocate this rather, erm, radical proposal on social media. I’m afraid I just can’t agree with this. Burns didn’t look entirely convincing against the spinners at Galle but it was his first test match. What’s more he was run out in the second innings. Dropping him would be about as fair as a 16 year old losing his hair – which is exactly what happened to me. And I can tell you that it’s very unfair! I have no idea why I brought that up but hey, it’s my blog, so it’s my rules. Capisce?!
The other big news is that Jos Buttler is likely to bat 3 at Kandy. I find this bizarre but no more bizarre than asking Moeen to do it. Or indeed picking Denly in the squad as a 3 but then jettisoning the plan after a couple of failures in the rather surreal and somewhat meaningless warm-up games.
Can Jos be a success at 3? In my opinion no. Not long-term. He might be a horse-for-the-course in Sri Lanka, thus allowing the management and selectors to kick the can down the road for a bit, but I don’t think he has the game to bat 3.
Having said that, at least I’m glad that Jos is finally moving up the order into a specialist batting spot – something I’ve championed for a while. The concept of picking a specialist batter at 7 last summer was as absurd as excluding me from the school first XI photo for arriving slightly late at the shoot. Thanks for that Roger Tolchard. I haven’t forgotten that you regarded mild tardiness as more important than my 400 runs at an average of 30 (the second most in the side). And yes this is still my blog, so I continue to reserve the right to bore you all with irrelevant bitter anecdotes. Double capisce?!!
Last but not least there’s also been talk of replacing Adil Rashid with a seamer. Again I find this bizarre but take solace in the fact that the England cricket team isn’t meant to make sense. They’re probably just trolling us anyway at this point. It’s amusing to think that Rashid was a shoo-in last summer when conditions hardly suited him (and he wasn’t likely to bowl much). And yet now we’re in Sri Lanka, and he bowled some peaches in Galle, he’s suddenly surplus to requirements? In the immortal words of Doctor Evil, “riiiiiight”.
The other thing I find utterly perplexing is that apparently Chris Woakes, rather than Stuart Broad, is the bowler most likely to replace Rashid. Why? Because England really like Woakes’s batting.
Now I must admit that I really like Woakes’ batting too. He’s orthodox, composed, organised and quite talented. But since when should batting ability matter when the cricketer in question is likely to bat at 10 (or 9 if they nonsensically move Sam Curran down the order)? Just pick the best bowler for heaven sake!
I know Ed Smith’s philosophy is to pick “the best all-round cricketers” with little regard for specialists, but preferring Woakes at 10 over a bloke with over 400 test wickets is just crazy. It’s as crazy as …. ok I’ll spare you another tail of personal anguish this time.