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Laying down the Law for Sri Lanka

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Oliver Brett | 08:00 UK time, Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Amid a certain amount of chaos within Sri Lankan cricket following their second successive failure to win a World Cup final, the elevation of assistant coach Stuart Law to the main role provides a note of calm.

Sri Lanka will become the second touring team to play a Test match in Cardiff on Thursday - and their tour of England (and Wales) continues all the way through to 9 July, before they head to Edinburgh for two one-day internationals against Ireland and Scotland.

Their two opening matches went pretty well, a win against a weak Middlesex side followed by a come-from-behind triumph against the much stronger England Lions.

Those results followed a pre-tour build-up which was anything but easy.

The resignations of captain Kumar Sangakkara and the selectors in the wake of the World Cup were predictable enough. More unsettling was the retirement from Test cricket of fast bowler Lasith Malinga, and an unpalatable tug-of-war between the national board and the Indian Premier League, which meant five players turned up after the first warm-up match.

Law makes a point to Sri Lanka's star batsman Mahela Jayawardene - photo: Getty

Add to that the sword of Damocles hanging over Sri Lankan cricket - namely former captain Hashan Tillakaratne's threat to name players he believes have been involved in match-fixing - and it's a relief to know that in Law they do at least have a hard-nosed former Aussie pro who is very familiar with all the players.

It is an additional boon that he knows local conditions as well as anyone in the England camp, following his fruitful spells as a player for both Essex, Lancashire and Derbyshire.

Sri Lanka are expected to be a formidable force in the five-match one-day series. On their last tour, in 2006, they caught a June heatwave and some consequently flat wickets to batter an experimental home side 5-0.

But it is the Tests which come first, and for the first part of the tour Sri Lanka's bowling attack is shorn of both Malinga (who, at 27, has decided he will only play limited-overs cricket for his country) and, of course, the brilliant spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, whiling away his last few years as a cricketer in various domestic Twenty20 leagues.

Law says of the absence of Malinga: "It's a massive loss, people are going to ask this question until probably the day he dies, and we're going to miss Muralitharan too, as anyone would.

"My understanding of it was that after the Test series against India [in August 2010] Malinga wasn't going to play much more Test cricket, so for me it's not really much of a surprise that he said he didn't want to be selected for this tour.

"Filling his boots is going to be tough work. He's a natural, he's unbelievably good at what he does and he's just getting through the IPL now. He knows he can't push his body to bowl 25-30 overs in a day.

"If he does he can't walk for a week so that's no good for him either. We will miss him but we have a young kid in our squad now called Nuwan Pradeep, who's very slingy. Hopefully he's the one who stands up to take his place.

"He's the future. You will miss guys like Malinga but we've got to stand up and find someone else who wants to play 10 to 15 years for Sri Lanka."

Pradeep was a key component in the win over the Lions, taking 4-29 on the final day against England's second-string unit.

Of the five Test players joining the tour late because of IPL commitments, Law is unconcerned about the lack of preparation for the excellent experienced batsmen Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.

But off-spinner Suraj Randiv, plus pace bowlers Dilhara Fernando and Thisara Perera, may suffer from their rushed lead-in to Cardiff, particularly as they have not been regular selections for their IPL sides.

Sri Lanka winning in Derby

Sri Lanka's victory over the England Lions came after following on. Picture: Getty

Law takes the inconvenience on the chin: "That's professional cricket these days. You'd love to have everyone together two weeks before a crucial opening Test match but unfortunately circumstances don't allow that these days."

An uncompromising, naturally fast-scoring right-handed batsman, Law had a reasonable run in the Australian one-day side in the late 1990s before being dropped just before the successful 1999 World Cup.

He never returned to the national side, but when not churning out runs for his native Queensland in the Australian summer he was also one of the most consistent scorers in county cricket in the early noughties.

A dalliance with the ill-fated Indian Cricket League led to an inevitable dead end, but Trevor Bayliss, the Australian who coached Sri Lanka for four years until the World Cup, helped Law make the transition from player to coach when appointing him as his assistant.

Just like Andy Flower, who took over as England coach on an interim basis in the Caribbean two years ago and went on to take the job permanently, Law is keen to make his current role into something more.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for me to work with one of the best teams in the world, so I am keen. I've got this tour to show what I'm capable of. I think I can take the team forward and hopefully myself and Sri Lanka Cricket will sit down and talk things through at the end of it."

Sri Lanka have already won two Tests in England, memorably at The Oval in 1998 when Muralitharan took 16 wickets in the match, and then when they took advantage of a deteriorating surface at Trent Bridge in 2006 to square that three-match series 1-1.

A draw or better over the course of the upcoming three-match rubber would be a notable achievement, and if the dry weather prevails, spinners like Randiv and Ajantha Mendis are potentially key.

So too is the captaincy of Tillakaratne Dilshan, known more for his imaginative batting than his leadership skills.

Law was enthused by Dilshan's bold decision to declare behind Middlesex at Uxbridge - a move which paid off with victory on the third and final day of Sri Lanka's tour opener.

"Dilly's a guy who's very positive in the way he plays his cricket and hopefully that carries on into his captaincy."

Law is also happy to disregard the official standings which show India as the number one Test team. England, he says, are the "best team in the world" in Tests, having had "a fantastic 18 months."

It's quite a compliment, but here's the Australian's ominous warning: "We can match them if we apply ourselves and play good consistent cricket. If we keep things simple we can be a devastating team."


  • Comment number 1.

    Had nô idea that Stuart Law had even retired let alone taken on international coaching. The last I heard he was eligible to bat for England!! Oh well, can't say that I wish him luck. But the win against a strong Lions team might be ominous.

  • Comment number 2.

    The loss of Malinga is huge and was really the only one of their bowlers that put any fear in me (they were already going to loose Muralitharan).

    The game against the England Lions needs some context though to remember. The major failing was with the bat on the final day and with the ball enforcing the follow on.

    I don't know how the pitch played on the final day but I doubt it was as good as when we posted 493 on days 1 and 2. The win total was achievable so the batsman had to try and remember they only lost by 38 runs. Finally the opening batsman and newly selected England player Morgan didn't even contribute. It's actually my problem with Morgan as a test player all he had to do was contribute a handy 30ish runs and the Lions would of been in a better position. Steadying the ship after loosing the last 2 wickets instead he was gone for 3 balls hitting a 4. That might be useful in an IPL game far less useful in test cricket and England had just lost 3 wickets for 9 runs all 'established' batsmen. Luckilly Patel and Hildreth actually did sort it out slight but 67-4 is not a winning position when needing to score double nelson!

    The bowling I have less criticism but in that attack your main bowlers are Onions who must still recovering from injury and Finn who is still young and probably find it difficult to bowl a long length of time.

    This all said out bowling attack is much strong in tests with Anderson in 'Welsh' swinging conditions, Broad and Swann. Our batting also looks far better in the top order with Strauss, Cook and Trott.

  • Comment number 3.

    Ncurd, hi again.

    Fair point about Morgan though as we all know anyone can get a jaffa. At the risk of flogging a dead horse, I'd like to point out that Hildreth deliberately avoided the IPL to show commitment to England. This cite ran an article about a 3-way shoot-out for the no.5 spot: Morgan, 'Bops' and Hildreth. This inexplicably got narrowed down to the first two in subsequent reporting (on this site) about Morgan's appointment. I have a bee in my bonnet about this. At the same time it's difficult to criticise the selectors + Morgan's results.

    The summer is about whether England are properly considered a good, mid-table Test side or world champions elect. These are high stakes. From a neutral perspective, the Ashes proves very little other than the decline of Australian cricket.

    England need not fear SL (or anyone else) but they had better respect them. Two imprtant tour victories despite apparent internal friction. I'd like to see Strauss and the England attack all over Cap'n Dilshan like a cheap de-mob suit.

    Good luck England.

  • Comment number 4.

    Just to keep you updated, in case you habe't heard Nuwan Pradeep has picked up a tour-ending injury, while Dilhara Fernando has a painful knee. Sri Lanka's seam-bowling resources suddenly looking very thin indeed.

  • Comment number 5.

    I think Bopara can feel even more slighted, he didn't play in the IPL either and does the business in First Class arena.

    Averaged 45.33 with two centuries in 10 innings.
    Also took 9 wickets okay admittedly at average of 41 but Collingwood was only useful in that he could bowl at First-Class.

    Morgan on the other hand hit a total of 137 runs (average 15.22) in the IPL as opposed to playing first class cricket but is forgiven for his one score of 193.

    I'd have selected Bopara simply because Hildreth has yet to get going this season whereas he has both players deserve the extra nod for not taking the money and trying to establish themselves. The problem I have now is how long do we give Morgan before dropping him? It would be unfair if he was dropped before the end of the Sri Lanka series now unless one of the other two do something special. However one good score could be enough to justify keeping Morgan and seeing if he turns good in the India series.

    As R-Brooker mentioned this is an incredibly important summer for England and all decisions need to be scrutinised intensely there is a lot of talent in the county game currently and any under performance by England players should immediately question their place in the squad.

    For the absolute record I'd have dropped Pietersen as well and played Hildreth and Bopara. That would of been really shocking had it happened though.

  • Comment number 6.

    Re: 5, ncurd

    I have absolutely no reservations about your last suggestion. KP has to learn THIS SUMMER, that he's a foot soldier, nothing more. I would be mortified if young, eligible, classy batsmen (e.g. Hildreth) get left behind. Last chance saloon for KP. I'm afraid that KP is one reason why I'd prefer as many English born players as skill-levels make possible in the England cricket set up. I know this opens old wounds. I am not against foreign-born players playing for England. Neither do I wish to demean their past services. But if English-born players (with the right skills) are available then I'd pick them. Hildreth is not the only player about whose future I am concerned (Woakes' career may suffer at the hands of e.g. Dernbach). But Hildreth IS a proven class act in the ECB system; one of those guys you only need to see play one shot to know he's got it.

  • Comment number 7.

    #6 stop talking absolute dross about Pietersen. He averaged 60 against Australia for goodness sake

  • Comment number 8.

    8. Who doesn't avérage 60 against australia! And I'm talking about his mental attitude.

  • Comment number 9.

    Sri Lanka keeps on producing quality cricketers all the time. Even without the services of match winners like Vaas, Murlidharan and Malinga, Sri Lankan cricket team cannot be taken lightly.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 10.

    Without a doubt, this summer is goin' to be a Clash of the Titans !
    OZ is history (at least for now) !
    Whoever comes up victorious .....SL, England, India will truely be holding the "TEST" Cricket World Cup !
    Right now, and Im not a betting man, ..... its anyones guess ! .... Ahh..., maybe India ! (and I dont know whether to call it with a slight outside or inside edge !)


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