With 15 months to go until Sri Lanka host the next World Twenty20 in September 2012, England’s preparations for the defence of their title get underway this weekend. Their victorious captain, Paul Collingwood, has been put out to pasture;
their point-of-difference seamer, Ryan Sidebottom, has retired to see out his days with Yorkshire. Instead, it’s over to the untested leadership of Stuart Broad, whose first match in charge promises to be a stiff challenge against a hard-hitting Sri Lankan line-up with plenty to prove after an uninspiring performance in the Test series.
Broad was not at his best in the Tests either, and despite a brighter finish to the series at the Rose Bowl, his effectiveness was limited in the latter stages by a bruised heel. However, it has been confirmed that he will play, albeit with heavy strapping, and will need to rediscover his A game as he takes charge of a seam attack with limited experience at this level. Chris Woakes impressed with his big-game mentality in Australia, while Jade Dernbach has been there or thereabouts since his shock call-up to the World Cup squad. But neither man has yet featured in a home international.
For both sides, there are more questions coming up than can reasonably expect to be answered in a one-off contest. If Broad thinks he’s got it tough, then pity Thilina Kandamby, who will also be making his international captaincy bow in a batting line-up featuring three former skippers in Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya - the latter, of course, a highly contentious selection.
Sri Lanka’s bowling will have some bite compared to their toothless showing in the Tests, thanks to Lasith Malinga’s return to the fray. England, meanwhile, suffered a scare in training when their new captain tripped over a medicine ball, of all things. He’s got a bruise to his dignity to go with the one on his heel. But he’s fine.
Sanath Jayasuriya’s return to international cricket at the age of 41 has not been universally welcomed, least of all by certain members of his own team. However, against Worcestershire on Wednesday he did serve notice of his enduring qualities with a hard-hitting knock of 78 from 60 balls at the top of the order. The political implications of his presence are rife, and have the ability to over-shadow the contest itself. But so long as he can justify his involvement by scoring runs, the edge will be taken off the argument against his inclusion.
No player outside the England team has excited more column inches in recent years than Samit Patel, Nottinghamshire’s talented and combative allrounder, whose undeniable abilities have been stymied by his stubborn refusal to keep an eye on his waistline. For season after season, his omission from England’s squads would be followed by an exasperated quote from Geoff Miller or Andy Flower, and there’s no doubt that England would have loved to have him in the subcontinent this winter for an arduous World Cup campaign. Now, at last, he has his chance again. As his Nottinghamshire coach, Mick Newell, told ESPNcricinfo last week: “Good luck ... don’t cock it up.”
A new beginning for England, but the team will have a familiar look to it nonetheless. The forgotten men of England’s World Twenty20 triumph, Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb, are expected to be restored to the top of the order, with Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan, Luke Wright and Graeme Swann joining Broad among the survivors of that triumph. The changes include Collingwood’s experience making way for Ian Bell’s expertise, while Samit Patel takes on the spinning allrounder role vacated by Michael Yardy.
England (probable) 1 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 2 Michael Lumb, 3 Kevin Pietersen, 4 Eoin Morgan, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Luke Wright, 7 Samit Patel, 8 Graeme Swann, 9 Stuart Broad (capt), 10 Chris Woakes, 11 Jade Dernbach.
Still no Tillakaratne Dilshan for Sri Lanka. His squashed thumb, courtesy Chris Tremlett, is taking a long time to heal. Mahela Jayawardene moves up to the top of the order, from where he hopes to kickstart a tour in which he’s been troublingly short of runs. Angelo Mathews, another talent who was solely missed in the Test series, slots into the middle order.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Mahela Jayawardene, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Thilina Kandamby, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Jeevan Mendis, 8 Nuwan Kulasekera, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Suraj Randiv, 11 Lasith Malinga.