I watched an interview with Kumar Sangakkara last week. He said that England were the best all-round test team in the world, and that we were favourites to beat Sri Lanka away from home. Hmmmm. I do love Sanga, and he normally talks a lot of sense, but this time my BS detector (which makes large raspberry sounds when its sensors are stimulated) was working overtime. Talk about putting pressure on the opposition by talking your own team down.
It’s quite possible that Sanga hasn’t watched England play away from home before. Although I doubt it. England’s record overseas (especially in Asia) is absolutely pitiful and the whole world knows it. What’s more, although Sri Lanka aren’t as strong as they once were, and their big stars retired a while back, they aren’t that bad at all. At least not at home.
Whilst Sri Lanka played terribly in the Asia Cup, and lost to Bangladesh and Afghanistan – yes I know that’s pretty bad – they beat South Africa 2-0 in their most recent test series. Both wins were by large margins. They also drew 1-1 in the West Indies in the test series before that, and won 2-0 in Bangladesh. And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you what happened the last time England toured Bangladesh.
What’s more, although Sri Lanka’s performances in the Asia Cup were pretty embarrassing, they only lost 2-3 to South Africa in the ODIs after the tests. They also recorded an aggregate victory of 2-1 over Bangladesh in the ODIs and beat Zimbabwe. The problem, of course, is that they also lost to Zimbabwe on one occasion. And that’s the result that everyone remembers.
Consequently, although people (including their own legends) might think England are favourites in all forms, I’m not so sure. Sri Lanka have proved to be very competitive in recent home test matches, and although their white ball form isn’t exactly brilliant, it’s not as bad as one might think. Performances have been erratic rather than consistently abysmal.
The bottom line is that England must approach this tour with caution. Sanga might have talked down the host’s chances but the smart money (in the test series at least) will probably be on Sri Lanka. There are some interesting cricket promotions online if you want to take advantage of some generous odds.
As for England I still think our test team looks rather weak on paper. We’ll have a completely unproven opening partnership, a new No.3 unless Moeen keeps batting up the order, and then a number five who would be better served batting at 6 or 7 – that’s unless Joe Denly or Ollie Pope gets to play.
England always rely on their all-rounders to bail them out when they lose early wickets but this won’t be an easy exercise in the Sri Lankan heat. It’s fair to say that Bairstow and Stoke will be bloody knackered after keeping and bowling in the sweltering conditions.
Sanga was also inexplicably talking up our spin bowling the other day too. I really have no idea what he was on. Rashid is occasionally useful but has a test average of 40, Moeen is always dreadful away from home, and Jack Leach has talent but he’s very inexperienced on the international stage.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have a chap called Rangana Herath who has the small matter of 430 test wickets at an average of 28. Saying that Sri Lanka have a slight advantage in the spin department is a bit like saying James Bond is fairly popular with the ladies. Or that the Hundred is, on balance, not the best idea a cricket governing body has ever had.
Obviously I have a lot more faith in our ODI team than the test boys. England are ranked No.1 in the world for a reason whereas Sri Lanka have fallen to 8th. However, this tour will present a slightly different challenge to Eoin Morgan’s men. After all, we haven’t won an ODI series in Asia for some time.
I expect England to win but I’m not uber confident. Call me a miserable sod but I still half expect the white ball wheels to come off at some stage. It wouldn’t be England otherwise.
Written in collaboration with Boomtown