Sri Lanka face struggle to save England series
Southampton (England): If Sri Lanka manage a series-equalling victory in the third and final Test against England at the Rose Bowl, it will be one of their most impressive wins of recent times.
And it would certainly go a long way in helping interim coach Stuart Law, the former Australia batsman, get the job on a permanent basis.
An attack missing retired greats Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, both now playing for English counties, as well as Lasith Malinga, has taken just 21 wickets in two Tests.
Meanwhile Sri Lanka head into the series finale, which starts on Thursday, without captain and in-form opening batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan, who had his thumb broken by England quick Chris Tremlett while making a superb 193 in the drawn second Test at Lord`s.
Sri Lanka then had to persuade Kumar Sangakkara, Dilshan`s immediate predecessor as skipper, to take up the reins again for what will be the first Test ever staged at the Rose Bowl, the home of southern county Hampshire.
"When he undertook this tour Kumar wasn`t officially appointed as vice-captain," explained Sri Lanka team manager Anura Tennakoon.
"But in case Dilshan had to come off the field, Kumar would stand in as the captain. That didn`t mean he was going to captain a Test match from the start," added Tennakoon.
"Because of Dilshan`s injury and being unable to play in the third Test, a situation arose that Kumar had to captain from the start -- which, I think, he wasn`t really mentally prepared to do.”
"But after some talking to him, that it was necessary for him to stand in, Kumar gave it some deep thought and tried to help the side by accepting that responsibility."
The uncapped Lahiru Thirimanne, who made a century in last week`s drawn warm-up match against Essex, is set to take Dilshan`s place in the team.
There was a time, following its debut as a first-class ground in 2001, where teams would have fancied their chances of taking 20 wickets so bowler-friendly was the Rose Bowl.
But the pitch has become progressively better to bat on and, while a five-day match has never been staged there before, all the indications are it will not deteriorate greatly.
In short, it looks like being another tough match for the bowlers, including Ashes star James Anderson, set to return after a side injury to lead an England attack that faltered in his absence at Lord`s.
"It`s going to be hard for us to get 20 wickets here, especially if the wicket is going to be as flat as it looks," Anderson said.
"To be honest in Test cricket at the moment a lot of the pitches are flat and it`s something we`ve had to learn to deal with."
Steven Finn looks like being the man to make way for Anderson although Stuart Broad, for all his attractive lower order batting, will be aware a Test bowling average of nearly 36 could do with coming down soon.
Much of England`s recent success has been built on the runs flowing from the bat of opener Alastair Cook, whose century at Lord`s followed on from his hundred in the innings and 14-run first Test win in Cardiff.
A first innings score of fifty at the Rose Bowl would see him equal the England record of six in a row -- two in the match would give him a share of a world record held by a group including England coach Andy Flower.
Victory would see England go joint-second in the ICC Test rankings, alongside South Africa, with only India, their next opponents this English season, above them.