Murali threat looms over England
Michael Vaughan’s England face one of world cricket’s most unenviable
tasks — tackling Muttiah Muralitharan on home soil — when they begin a
Test series in Sri Lanka on Saturday.
The prolific off-spinner, five wickets away from surpassing retired
Australian Shane Warne’s world mark of 708, has ensured that Sri Lanka
are a formidable, almost unbeatable, squad in their own backyard.
The hosts have won 15 of the last 25 Tests on their spin-friendly
pitches, nine of them by big innings margins, and lost just four
Observers say Sri Lanka’s home advantage is just as real against England
who, in the words of noted cricket writer Peter Roebuck, “find Murali
harder to read than a Bulgarian novel.”
Vaughan however can seek inspiration from his predecessor Nasser Hussain,
who led England to a 2-1 win in 2001, one of only three Test series out
of 19 in the last decade that Sri Lanka have lost at home.
Vaughan, on his third Test tour here, knows that his team will face a
monumental task when the first Test starts at the Asgiriya stadium here.
“It is always difficult to win in this part of the world,” the England
captain said after his side recorded a morale-boosting win in a
first-class match in Colombo on Tuesday.
He said he hoped England could put up big totals, despite the threat
from Muralitharan, to give the bowlers a chance to win matches. “You
need to be able to defend more out here, and you need your areas to
score,” he said.
“Sri Lanka’s attack is very experienced and disciplined, so there will
be times when it’s difficult to score, but I’m sure there will be times
we can get on top of them.”
After two practice matches in Colombo, Vaughan was still not sure
whether Ravi Bopara or Owais Shah would take the number six slot left
vacant by the injured Andrew Flintoff.
“The final eleven was always going to be a tough one, and that number
six position is going to be especially tough whichever way we go,” he
Strike bowler Steve Harmison is set to miss the first Test due to a
niggling back injury, leaving Matthew Hoggard, Ryan Sidebottom and,
possibly, James Anderson to share the new ball in the heavy conditions
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, hope to get back to winning ways after being
blanked 2-0 in Australia earlier this month, but have their own problems
trying to finalise the line-up.
Left-hander Upul Tharanga, who scored 112 and 86 against the tourists in
the practice games, returns to the side after missing the Australian
series and will open the batting with either veteran Sanath Jayasuriya
or Michael Vandort.
Jayasuriya, 38, has scored just one half-century in his last 15 Tests
and local media speculated he was being nudged by the selectors to
announce his retirement during the series, or face the axe.
KANDY, Sri Lanka, Thursday, AFP