| Vaughan feels Hussain’s fighting abilities will have a big impact
Kandy means hill in Sinhalese, and it is England who still have the steeper one to climb if they are to win the second Test that starts at the Asgiriya ground Wednesday.
Nasser Hussain, the main architect of the win here last time in 2001, is back to bolster their ascent, though his inclusion means either bad luck for Paul Collingwood or a stripping back of the bowling attack to just three specialists.
Ashley Giles could solve the dilemma if his flu should worsen further, but although he was not at net practice Monday, Michael Vaughan, his captain, expects him to play.
If a player is feeling none too chipper and needs to bite on the bullet, Kandy is the best place to do it. For starters, it is 1,500ft above sea level. So there is little of the drowning humidity of the coast.
Temperatures are kinder than at sea level. Giles will desperately want to play, if only to take advantage of the new-found confidence coursing through his gym-honed body.
Hussain’s return is right. He is a hardened battler, and this will be attritional cricket where sheer willpower can change the momentum. Yet England appear to be toying with strengthening their batting by including Collingwood at six in the hope they can win the toss, score over 400 and then fiddle Sri Lanka out through pressure rather than with variety. Vaughan said Monday: “Nasser is a fighter and he’ll definitely play, though we might go in with six batters.We have to work out our best formula for the pitch, which looks much slower than last time. Three spinners is also an option.”
He added: “The key is to stay in the game until the fourth and fifth day and put them under pressure. They are definitely a team who can fold, but you need to get runs on the board to do it.”
Other concerns for the England captain from the first Test at Galle must be the lack of new-ball penetration. England’s pace bowlers could nip off to the Temple of the Tooth here if they need to be reminded of what teeth look like. The place is home to the most sacred relic in Buddhism, a two-inch long incisor believed to have belonged to Buddha.
After Galle, where the new ball attack shared only two wickets in the match, it would not be surprising if both Matthew Hoggard and Richard Johnson made way for James Anderson and James Kirtley.
Anderson’s knack of making things happen will see him reinstated at Hoggard’s expense, though Kirtley too could get the nod should Johnson, apparently under the weather in the last Test with tummy trouble, feel his minor ailment is a compromise too far.
Whether pace will play the vital role it did last time in England’s win under Hussain, when Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick and Craig White took 17 of t he 20 wickets, is questionable. The surface looks less compact than in 2001, and, although it was damp Monday, a mosaic of cracks appeared as it dried.
It would be extraordinary if the Sri Lankan groundsman at this ground, owned by neighbouring Trinity College, produced another pitch where visiting pacemen could boss the game. Instead, some early turn is likely.
Although strengthened by the return of Hussain, the batting, and more specifically some of the shots played by experienced players at Galle, need addressing.
Vaughan must be concerned about his own lack of form. His Test average has almost halved from 50 to 28 since he became captain last summer. He said he felt he was striking the ball well in practice, but realised the need for runs in the middle.
A man of unflappable temperament, Vaughan cuts an entirely different figure out here to Hussain, his predecessor, who unable to sleep, paced hotel corridors and watched in-house videos until dawn.
Sri Lanka (from): H. Tillekeratne, M. Atapattu, S. Jayasuriya, K. Sangakkara, M. Jayawardene, T. Samaraweera, M. Vandort, R. S. Kaluwitharana, K. Dharmasena, U. Chandana, C. Vaas, D. Fernando, Dilhara Fernando, T. M. Dilshan, M. Muralidharan.
England (from): M. Vaughan, M. Trescothick, M. Butcher, N. Hussain, G. Thorpe, A. Flintoff, G. Batty, P. Collingwood, R. Croft, A. Giles, M. Hoggard, J. Anderson, R. Johnson, R. Kirtley, C. Read.