England and Sri Lanka both have bowling problems heading into next Test
Lunch: First Test, day five, Cardiff
Match score: England 491-5 (Bell 98*, Morgan 14*; Cook 133, Trott 203) lead Sri Lanka 400 (Paranavitana 66, Dilshan 50, P Jayawardene 112) by 91 runs Full scorecard
Session score: No play before lunch: rain
As another morning of depressing Cardiff rain consigned this forgettable Test to the history books, thoughts turned to the second Test at Lord’s, which starts on Friday, and the selection issues that confront the two sides.
Both England and Sri Lanka have decisions to make about their bowling attack. It is almost certain that James Anderson will need to be replaced for Lord’s after his side strain and maybe for the Rose Bowl too while Sri Lanka need find a way to be more penetrative.
England first. Ideally, Anderson would be replaced by a swing bowler but Tim Bresnan’s injury makes that a trickier acquisition. Steven Finn is not a swinger although he was in the squad for this game and played the first three Tests until he was replaced with such success by Chris Tremlett.
If not Finn then the other options are Ajmal Shahzad, who played his one Test against Bangladesh last year, and Graham Onions, tail-end stonewall hero of 2009 and early 2010 but out with a back injury for a year.
All three played for England Lions against the Sri Lankans at Derby before this Test and all three pressed claims without any of them demanding selection.
Shahzad is seen as a reverse-swing specialist for exceptionally dry or subcontinental conditions. It is no coincidence that his one Test cap came at Old Trafford, the most reverse-friendly arena in England. He has taken 13 wickets at 41 in the County Championship for Yorkshire this season.
Onions is in the middle of his fifth first-class match of the season and so far he has taken 18 wickets at 32 in 147 overs. His wicket-to-wicket delivery is more akin to Anderson’s style though without the calculatedly devilish swing.
Picking Onions would provide a great human story for the press: gutsy man of the people comes back from career-threatening injury. But back in the lucid, pragmatic world of the ‘Andocracy’ Onions will likely have to prove his fitness over a longer term to get back in the England side.
So Finn it probably is. He has bowled well this season and believes he is a better bowler than he was during the winter (he is hardly likely to say he has got worse). The objection to Finn’s selection is that it leaves England’s with a samey seam attack. The upside is that if Lord’s has more pace and bounce than the Cardiff pitch then Sri Lanka’s batsmen ought to find life difficult against three tall men. Talking to Nasser Hussain yesterday, he felt that you can too clever with selections like this. Simply pick your next best bowler was his view.
The elephant in the room is, of course, the overall balance of England’s team and whether they should pick five rather than four bowlers. In matches like this one, a slow pitch and a bowling injury has made England’s XI look desperately conservative and batsman-heavy but there doesn’t look to be any prospect of a major shift in policy any time soon.
Sri Lanka suffered their injuries in the lead-up to, rather than during, the Test but their attack has looked so toothless it seems unlikely they will not change personnel for Lord’s.
The seamer Dilhara Fernando, their most experienced bowler with 35 Test caps, has a knee injury but is expected to be available for Lord’s and if so would be a certain pick. He has 90 Test wickets at 36 but has not taken three in an innings in any of his last nine Tests, stretching back almost four years.
The lack of penetration or variety at Cardiff (at no stage did any of their seamers even bowl round the wicket to Alastair Cook) opens the way for the left-armer Chanaka Welegedara, who played the first of his six Tests against England on their last tour to Sri Lanka in 2007-08. He has taken three wickets in his last four Tests.
Sri Lanka are expected to play only one spinner at Lord’s with the likely casualty Ajantha Mendis, the mystery spinner who looks less mysterious by the match. The slow left-armer Rangana Herath looks worth his place simply for the mental hold that his type of bowler has on Kevin Pietersen.
The only Sri Lankan seamer who has really impressed in this Test is Thisara Perera who discomfited Ian Bell for a brief spell yesterday when for almost the only time in four days, the Test had a certain edge and frisson of competition between bat and ball.
John Stern is a former editor of The Cricketer
Follow him on Twitter @Cricketer_John