England v Sri Lanka: Hosts must have eye on future - Jonathan Agnew

By Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent
Alastair Cook
Alastair Cook is on the verge of becoming the first England player to 10,000 Test runs
First Test: England v Sri Lanka
Venue: Headingley, Leeds; Dates: 19-23 May; Start time: 11:00 BST
Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio 4 LW and online from 10:25 BST; live text commentary from 10:00

The beginning of the first Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley marks the start of an interesting summer for England.

With the Olympics and football's European Championship, attention will be elsewhere and cricket may end up on the back-burner. It's up to the England team to make sure people do not take their eyes off them by winning and playing in an attractive, eye-catching manner.

The last time we saw England was at the World Twenty20, when they enjoyed a thrilling ride to the final. Although this is a different format, Alastair Cook's men need to continue that momentum.

For the home side, it is about beating Sri Lanka and winning the series against Pakistan that follows, all while having an eye on an incredibly difficult upcoming winter and the tour of Australia at the end of next year.

New face, old problem

Alex Hales and Nick Compton
Both Alex Hales and Nick Compton need runs in order to secure their place in the England team

Once again, the debate surrounding the England team concerns the batting, with the top order still unconvincing during the winter win in South Africa.

Many seemed to think Nick Compton would lose his place, but I was more surprised that Alex Hales was retained.

Before that South Africa series the old bowler in me could see his vulnerability outside the off stump and so it proved.

England rightly like to give players an extended run in the hope they can improve, iron out technical flaws and nail down a place in the side - there's nothing wrong with that. However, in the case of Hales, a terrific white-ball batsman, you wonder how much longer he will get if he does not register a big score or two in this series.

As for Compton, he ended the South Africa tour in a disappointing fashion - a wild drive in the second-innings collapse in the final Test - after starting so well in the win in Durban. I'm not sure if it was a gesture of bravado or anxiety.

There's a feeling that he can be a little high-maintenance, but this is a chance for him to knuckle down. I have reservations over him and Cook batting together - that seems a little old-fashioned now - but all he can do is play the way that he does and hope it comes off.

One selection that appears to have unanimous support is that of James Vince, who comes in at number five following the terribly sad retirement of James Taylor.

He has scored runs for Hampshire, led the Lions and I enjoyed what I saw of him at the World Twenty20. The selectors like players to go through the system and Vince has done just that. England were right to go for him over someone like Ian Bell, because this summer has to be about having an eye on the future.

England v Sri Lanka schedule
1st Test: Headingley, 19-23 May1st ODI: Trent Bridge, 21 JuneT20: Southampton, 5 July
2nd Test: Riverside, 27-31 May2nd ODI: Edgbaston, 24 June
3rd Test: Lord's, 9-13 June3rd ODI: Bristol, 26 June
4th ODI: The Oval, 29 June
5th ODI: Cardiff, 2 July

Headingley heroes return

Sri Lanka may be rebuilding following the retirement of batsmen Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, but they will be buoyed by fond memories of Headingley, where two years ago they secured a series victory in a remarkable last-over Test win.

In Angelo Mathews they have a seriously talented all-rounder and a ferociously competitive captain, and their bowling attack, which did very well here last time, is still decent.

However, their batting is inexperienced and, with some bad weather around, England would hope to roll them over if the tourists bat first in bleak conditions.

Sri Lanka's batsmen have not fired in the warm-up matches and Headingley under clouds can be a challenge, but Mathews will certainly ensure his men are up for the fight.

Pointless points?

This series - and the one against Pakistan - will feature a new points system, similar to the Women's Ashes, where all of the Tests, one-day internationals and Twenty20s count towards an overall series winner.

I was all for it in the women's game and I would even like to see it used in series between the Associate nations like Ireland and Scotland, because it can add context. But I'm yet to be persuaded that it is a good idea for men's series played between Test nations - it seems to be yet another crutch for the ailing 50-over format.

The administrators might hope that the Test series is close to create tension around the white-ball games, but what if the Tests are one-sided?

It's hard to judge something until we've seen it in action, but my impression is that the 50-over game needs looking at in isolation, rather than tinkering with a Test format that is not broken.

Sri Lanka celebrate
Sri Lanka sealed a series victory off the penultimate ball of the match at Headingley in 2014

Cook set for the 10,000 club

Alastair Cook was always set to be England's highest Test runscorer - a feat achieved last summer - and then it was a case of how long he wanted to continue. With plenty of cricket left in him, the skipper stands 36 runs away from being the first England player - and 12th in all - to reach 10,000.

At 31 year and five months, he is set to become the youngest man to reach that mark, breaking the record of Indian great Sachin Tendulkar, who was 31 years and 10 months.

It would be lovely for him to reach the milestone at Headingley against Sri Lanka because on the same ground against the same opponents two years ago, the knives were out.

At that point, England were a mess, Cook was not scoring runs and he contemplated resigning, only to be talked out of it by his wife Alice. What a good job it is that she did.

Cook is one of the finest players that England have had, albeit one who plays in his own way. He's extremely disciplined in his own isolated world, fiercely stubborn and determined. He has cut through point, driven through mid-off, worked off his legs and played the occasional pull shot for 9,964 Test runs and that is exactly the way in which he will continue.


England's first objective is to win both Test series this summer in an appealing way, yet they must also have an eye on the future.

The schedule is yet to be finalised, but they could play as many as seven Test matches before Christmas in Bangladesh and India this winter, perhaps the toughest winter any England team has ever had.

That has the potential to be a very long, bruising period so they have to make sure that is not the case.

They will need a resilient, patient top order and spinners capable of bowling teams out in those conditions. A year ago Monty Panesar's England days looked done, but now he is back playing for Northants do not rule him out of the winter tours.

Then, a further year on, will be the defence of the Ashes in Australia. England have lost 5-0 on two of their past three trips down under. Now is the time when they should be identifying potential characters to defend the urn.

Win now, but build for the challenges to come.

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC