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England vs Sri Lanka 2014: Possible strategies against English top-order

Apart from Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, England lack experience in their batting order © Getty Images
Apart from Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, England lack experience in their batting order © Getty Images

As Sri Lanka get ready to play England at Lord’s, Bharath Ramaraj looks to possible strategies Sri Lanka may employ against the English top-order.

In recent times, England have been a difficult side to beat at home. Their batsmen have put up tall scores on the board and bowlers have followed it up by choking the batsmen for runs and bowling out opponents. The wheels though came off in Australia, where they lost 5-0. With Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen now not being a part of the unit, England are on a rebuilding path.

So, with Sri Lanka about to play England in a three-Test series, the opposition ranks would be licking their lips in anticipation of flagging down England for the first time in their own den in a full-fledged Test series.

Meanwhile, let’s look at the possible strategies Sri Lankan think-tank may look at employing to get the better of England’s batsmen.

Introducing spin in the form of Rangana Herath early can be useful in keeping young Sam Robson at bay © Getty Images
Introducing spin in the form of Rangana Herath early can be useful in keeping young Sam Robson at bay © Getty Images

Sam Robson: The Australian-born Robson earned a call-up into the revamped England set-up after consistent performances for his County, Middlesex and during England Lions tour to Australia and Sri Lanka, respectively.

Robson is an old-school batsman who believes in giving the first hour to opponents and then looks to build a large edifice. If we have a look at Robson’s career through the lens of numbers, he does average a creditable 42.33 in First-Class cricket.

So, how would Sri Lanka go about bowling at England’s new recruit? Remember that Sri Lanka are light on pace bowling stocks. Sri Lanka perhaps can look at introducing slow left arm orthodox, Rangana Herath early into the attack. Robson on occasions has shown a tendency to play back and push hard at deliveries that leaves him against slow left arm orthodox. A case in point being Gary Keedy of Surrey teasing and tempting him outside his off-stump, before producing the edge at the Oval in 2013. Robson got out for 18 then. It is a gamble, as you don’t want to waste the new ball, but looking at Sri Lanka’s attack, it is a gamble worth taking.

Alastair Cook: England’s captain had an annus horibilis in Ashes 2013-14. He couldn’t do well with the bat and Australia just steamrolled a side that was good on paper. Australian quicks were very disciplined, as they didn’t give Cook anything to cut and pull. Right-arm seamers mainly pitched it on a good length and took the ball away from the left-hander in an attempt to bring him forward. The left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson though, on occasions, bowled full and looked to catch him on the walk to trap him dead in front. Zaheer Khan, India’s left-arm pacer has also troubled him by catching the left-hander on the move. A few times Morne Morkel from around the wicket has troubled Cook by getting appreciable bounce and  cramping him for room. However, very few bowlers get the kind of bounce that Morkel does.

Sri Lanka don’t have anyone in the class of Ryan Harris or Johnson. But Chanaka Welegedara, the left-armer can be an option against him.  All right-arm seamers need to stay away from Cook’s strengths (cut and pull.)

Ian Bell © Getty Images
Ian Bell has shown a tendency to lose the plot against back of a length bowling outside his off-stump, early in his innings © Getty Images

Ian Bell: With Pietersen out of the picture, Bell arguably comes across as England’s best batsman. When on song, he can touch great heights and is a technically gifted batsman. However, despite all that, he has shown a tendency to lose the plot against back of a length bowling outside his off-stump, early in his innings.

A case in point being in what turned out to be a battle royale between Morkel and Bell at Cape Town in 2009-10, Morkel took Bell’s wicket. Bell, who looked set to take England to safety edged a back of a length delivery from Morkel that could have been left alone. In the Leeds Test played in 2012, Bell even chased a wide one and lost his wicket to Jacques Kallis. A few call it as ‘Mark Waugh’ syndrome as the elegant Australian batsman had the tendency to play what can be called as half cut and half drive during the early part of his innings and lose his wicket.

Talking about Kallis, the wily pacer during his illustrious career also troubled Bell’s indifferent footwork early in his innings by pitching it up in an attempt to snare his wicket either through the LBW or bowled mode. Leeds 2008 and The Oval 2012 are fine examples of Kallis taking Bell’s wicket by getting a bit of shape into the right-hander and cleaning him up.

Sri Lanka don’t have aggressive hit the deck bowlers. However, Shaminda Eranga has shown the ability to move the ball in the air and off the pitch. He can look to pitch it up and try to work on Bell’s footwork early in his innings.

In the second part of the article, let’s look at the rest of England’s batsmen.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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