Little more than a year ago, England were preparing to face New Zealand in the return leg of their twin tours. Rarely had the start of a domestic summer felt so trivial: the series was barely an hors d’oeuvre before the Champions Trophy starter and the Ashes main course; England had such a settled team that Finn or Bresnan was becoming as much of a cliche as dancing ‘Gangnam Style’. (We realise some kids might not remember Steven Finn, or Tim Bresnan, or for that matter Gangnam Style.) Our preview took a sarcastic swipe at Liam Plunkett – which was becoming as much of a cliche as repeating gags in blog posts.
But now? Now is different. With whistles wetted by the limited overs matches, which somehow managed to turn into an interesting series despite the weather plaguing cricket elsewhere, there is a real appetite for some healthy Test cricket. The principal reason for this is of course that there were a plethora of selection dilemmas. In naming a squad of 12 players, James Whitaker and Co. have laid many of the potential conundrums to rest (and Alastair Cook has announced the batting order will be Cook, Robson, Ballance, Bell, Root and Ali), but there is great interest in which two of Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan and Liam Plunkett will play. Yes – that Liam Plunkett. Furthermore, with a quarter of the squad uncapped and two more (Woakes and Gary Ballance) having just played a solitary Test each), it will be very interesting to see how this new team perform – both individually and as a team.
That their opponents are Sri Lanka – and then India – will help ease them into the Test environment. Although India shouldn’t be underestimated, the Sri Lankans are opponents not entirely comfortable playing for five days in conditions as damp and chilly as are to be expected in this country: three years ago they were bowled out for 82 runs in a session at Sophia Gardens, whilst the other two matches were rain-affected draws; however they do have a history of posting big totals at Lord’s, and as the sun is shining, they might make metaphorical hay. This series also has the added poignancy of these shores saying farewells of some kind to the three Kings (well, two Kings and one sort of Duke) of Sri Lankan batting.
So whilst the whole world succumbs to World Cup fever, we hope eyes are also turned towards Lord’s. We’re all off to pack our sun cream, mackintosh and lifesize poster of the Plunkster.