Andrew Strauss must lead England to a series-saving win against Sri Lanka at Colombo’s P Sara Stadium in the second and final Test of this ridiculously short series if his team are to retain their hard-won status at No 1 in the ICC Test rankings.
If they fail to level the series at 1-1, after falling to a 75-run defeat in Galle despite Jonathan Trott’s magnificent second innings 112, they will move below South Africa to the No 2 spot.
England are due to meet South Africa in three Tests at The Oval, Headingley and Lord’s in July and August, in a series billed for some time as the meeting between the world’s top two Test sides. It was widely expected, however, that England would be No 1 and the South Africans at No 2, not the other way around.
Even if England fail to beat Sri Lanka at the second attempt, from April 3-7, then they will still have the chance of regaining their No 1 ranking if they see off the West Indies in the three-Test early-summer series in May and June.
But, for skipper Strauss and team director Andy Flower, these are worrying times as England continue to struggle in subcontinental conditions as a batting force. The Galle defeat is the fourth Test loss in a row, following the humiliating 3-0 reverse against Pakistan in the UAE earlier this year and – after the summer series with West Indies and South Africa – a four-Test tour of India looms large in the autumn.
If 2012 is not going to go down as an ‘annus horribilis’ for England cricket – and the early signs are not good, with sloppy shot selection looking like a virus without a cure at the moment – then Strauss, himself with only one hundred in his last 48 Test innings, needs quickly to prove that his leadership partnership with Flower is capable of sorting things out.