With England being well and truly trounced in their Test series against Pakistan, they now face Sri Lanka in uncomfortable conditions and with a number of questions needing to be answered. Some of the 51allout contributors have thus sat down and submitted their bold (and not so bold) predictions for the series, and at the very least gives up something to come back to for amusement once the two matches have finished.
Key player (England): I’m going to be quite sensationally dull and say Alastair Cook. You get the impression everyone (both the rest of the team and fans alike) are calm while he’s at the crease. If he gets out cheaply we could be in a bit of trouble. Plus, other than KP, I’m not sure anyone else is in any sort of form.
Biggest concern (England): To avoid being remarkably dull again I’m going to say Ian Bell. England can’t afford to have their middle order collapse in a heap every game again and he is going to need some runs. I don’t have any doubts that he is capable of coming out of this slump, just there are no other scapegoats now and the full icy glare of blame will probably fall on him if he fails in the first Test.
Key player (Sri Lanka): Suresh Randiv. Better than Herath and (assuming he plays, which he should) could reignite England’s fiery pit of terror against competent spin bowling. He’s not played that much international cricket either so will be a bit more of an unknown quantity. He’s played against England five times in ODI’s (all of them actually in England as well) and averages 20. Which bodes well for pitches which actually turn.
Biggest concern (Sri Lanka): The opening pair. Excellent as the likes of Jayawardene and Sangakkara are, if Sri Lanka are 20/2 every innings they are going to struggle. Dilshan’s form has been a bit rubbish of late (he averages 24 in 17 innings since his hundred at Lord’s) and I’m not sure England will be too worried about Paranavitana. Famous last words.
Score prediction: 1-0 England. Win in Galle, horrifically dull draw in Colombo.
Key player (England): Alastair Cook. With most of the batting line up either out of form or named Ravi Bopara, his runs will be vital at the top of the order.
Biggest concern (England): The balance of the side. With Bopara unable to bowl, I feel that they could be better off with Bresnan in at 7 to give some flexibility and to provide cover if Broad’s ankle plays up.
Key player (Sri Lanka): Kumar Sangakarra. The key batsman for Sri Lanka and if England can keep him averaging under 40, they will have a great chance to win.
Biggest concern (Sri Lanka): The bowling attack. Sri Lanka will need the whole attack to contribute in order to take 20 wickets.
Score prediction: 1-0, as I feel England have a greater chance of taking 20 wickets in a match.
Anything else? Panesar to outbowl Swann again. Kevin Pietersen to top score for England in the series.
Matthew L (The Australian):
Key player (England): Alastair Cook. If he can replicate his ODI form of recent months then England will have the solid foundation they sorely lacked in the UAE.
Biggest concern (England): Spin. Or their inability to play it. Even if the ball isn’t actually spinning.
Key player (Sri Lanka): Tillakaratne Dilshan. The same as with Cook, if he can bring his strong ODI form, particularly that which he showed in Australia recently, into the Test series, he will do much to bolster the otherwise sometimes suspect Sri Lankan top order.
Biggest concern (Sri Lanka): Whilst the bowling is an issue, the Sri Lankan fielding performances of late have been utterly bizarre, intermingling shelling absolute sitters with pulling off the occasional screamer. Simply put, to have a chance of winning with their attack, they will need to hold all their chances.
Score prediction: Nil all. I’m banking on a rain-affected first Test and a typical Colombo pitch in the second to deliver an inconclusive series. At least it will mean England will avoid losing another series in Asia.
Anything else? DRS will prove to be surprisingly uncontroversial over the course of the series, although using Snicko without Hotspot will turn out to be an exercise in futility.
Key player (England): Alastair Nathan Cook. Should Chef be dismissed cheaply I don’t see the middle order (particularly should Ian Bell play) taking the mantle to set a commanding total.
Biggest concern (England): I can’t decide on a single biggest concern but have several small ones; the conditions mean regular bowler rotation will need to be made to preserve Jimmy and Saint Stuart; a disorganised middle order – Bell can’t even buy a run; and, of course a spinning delivery.
Key player (Sri Lanka): Good old Mahela. Having him resume his captaincy he must continue to play well in the desolate bleak winter of his rather stella career.
Biggest concern (Sri Lanka): Bowling. Although the spinners may cause carnage, they will struggle to take 20 wickets consistently. Oh and which Tillakaratne Mudiyanselage Dilshan turns up.
Score prediction: Bollocks to it, 2-0 England.
Key player (England): Alastair Cook. England’s batting problems have been well-documented; it has been the non-sweaty vice-captain who looks most likely to make scores big enough to be match-winning.
Biggest concern (England): The batting. Yes they will have been “working hard” and “focussing” and “learning from their mistakes”, but will they practise what they preach?
Key player (Sri Lanka): Mahela Jayawardene (and Dilshan). Offically passengers in their series against South Africa. Sri Lanka’s strength should be their batting, but senior players really need to contribute runs to match their reputation.
Biggest concern (Sri Lanka): Their bowling attack looks unremarkable, but England have a long history of being bowled out by unremarkable bowling attacks.
Score prediction: 1-0 (England)
Anything else? Graeme Swann won’t score a hundred.
Key player (England): Jonathan Trott. Following a Bradmanesque start, Trott’s average has been gradually creeping down over the last year. With Strauss’s cackness at the top of the order something of a given, Trott basically has to get it right at number three or England will be playing catchup in every innings.
Biggest concern (England): Definitely the batting. The bowling has been absolutely sensational for some time now, but even that couldn’t make up for the shoddy batting in the UAE. England need to get back to making daddy hundreds.
Key player (Sri Lanka): Kumar Sangakarra. The man that England will be targetting in every innings. With 16 hundreds in Sri Lanka already, the home side will be looking to him to make some serious runs.
Biggest concern (Sri Lanka): The seam attack. England’s issues against spin are well documented but (unlike Pakistan) it’s unreasonable to expect Sri Lanka to take 20 wickets without the seamers making an impression.
Score prediction: England to pinch it, 1-0
Anything else? Panesar to outbowl Swann again.
Key player (England): Alastair Cook. The bowling line up looks capable of blowing away any team for under 200,but after the recent tour the batting line up doesn’t look like it could make 100. Big scores from Chef in the humid conditions are vital for England to set daunting challenges.
Biggest concern (England): Jonathan Trott, his recent run of form has been overlooked due to the inadequacies of Bell and Morgan, but England need their number 3 to step up and start posting the big scores he was known for in 2010 and early 2011. This will take some of the pressure off Lord Ronald (who in the last five matches he averages just a shade under eight) and the rest of the middle order.
Key player (Sri Lanka): Rangana Herath/DRS. The ODI series against Pakistan showed that England players were finally adapting their game to take in to account the impact that the referral system has had, but it will be interesting to see what sort of psycholigical scars have been left from the Test series. The mere mention of the words ‘slow left arm’ accompanied with a couple of fielders around the bat seemed enough to leave the majority of the line up looking like deers in the headlights.
Biggest concern (Sri Lanka): The batting line up just did not fire in South Africa, and with England’s bowlers looking rampant (whoever plays) there must be a big concern that they will be setting a series of under par scores.
Score prediction: 2-0 (England)
So there we are. On average we predict England to win 1.14-0, Cook to be the key man and England to have a few brainfarts against the spinners. Our preview of the first Test is here, we will be aiming to cover the match on twitter (@51allout) despite the early start time of 05:30 (UK time) and so long as we stay off the double gins, we’ll also publish a daily review. Cheers!