Contrasting challenges for Cardiff contenders

Thursday, 26 May 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

(Reuters) - England and Sri Lanka face differing challenges as they prepare for the first test in a three-match series opening in Cardiff on Thursday.

Andrew Strauss’s England team have set their sights on deposing India as the world number side after successful Ashes defence this year. India will play four tests in England after the Sri Lanka tour.

For their part, Lanka have not played a test outside the Asian sub-continent in more than three years. Adjusting to early season English pitches will provide a thorough examination of their batsmen’s technique and bowlers’ discipline.

However, Sri Lanka’s more pressing issue is finding a way to overcome the loss of off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who played his final test in July after claiming a world record 800th test victim in the process.

Early indications are not promising as the Sri Lankans have drawn four tests and lost one since Muralitharan’s retirement.

Sri Lanka’s last test in England, at Trent Bridge in 2006, was a comprehensive 134-run victory which enabled them to draw the three-match series, thanks to Muralitharan’s eight for 70 in the second innings.

They have also lost fast bowler Lasith Malinga, who has retired from test cricket because of knee problems, and have a new captain in dashing opener Tillekeratne Dilshan who replaces Kumar Sangakkara.

Australian Stuart Law has been installed as interim coach after his compatriot Trevor Bayliss resigned. England have no such concerns. Strauss and team director Andy Flower share a cohesive, efficient and successful partnership at the helm of the team.

The only change for this week’s match is Eoin Morgan’s inclusion at number six for the now retired Paul Collingwood.

Morgan has already played six tests and his 193 against the Sri Lankans for England Lions last week confirmed his place ahead of Ravi Bopara.

England’s bowling unit, which demonstrated its strength in depth in Australia when Stuart Broad was injured and Steven Finn was dropped, will take the field witout the injured Tim Bresnan. Chris Tremlett is likely to join James Anderson, Broad and off-spinner Graeme Swann in a four-man attack.

The test is the second to be played at Sophia Gardens after the ground hosted the opening 2009 Ashes match when England scraped an unlikely draw and went on to win the series 2-1.

Strauss urges England to focus on No.1 ranking

Reuters) - England must forget the Ashes success and focus on becoming the best team in the world, their captain Andrew Strauss said on Wednesday.

England face Sri Lanka in the first match of a three-test series starting on Thursday before taking on India, test cricket’s number one-ranked team, and Strauss said they should not dwell on the 3-1 victory in Australia.

“This is the start of a new cycle in a way,” Strauss told reporters. “It’s the start of a very busy and difficult summer for us and it is an opportunity for us to make a step forward to becoming number one in the world.

“That excites us and I think for us to be thinking too much back to what happened in Sydney at this stage is not helpful. It is the only way we can look at it.”

Strauss said England should learn from what went well in Australia but recognise that they have new targets.

“We achieved quite an important goal for us as a side to win out there in Australia but our goals now have turned towards this summer and beyond,” he said.

Although Sri Lanka’s interim coach Stuart Law has said that England have played the best test cricket over the last 18 months, Strauss said more consistency was needed.

“We are some way off (number one) and it might take us a long time to get there and certainly if we drift into the summer and don’t hit top gear straight away that could seem like a long way off,” Strauss added.

“The motivation for us now is to take the next step. I will be very disappointed if any of the players are resting on laurels or anything like that. We need to hit ground running -- there is no doubt about that.”

Sri Lanka said they would await the results of a fitness test on fast bowler Dilhara Fernando before deciding their final team. Suranga Lakmal is on standby.