England hoping it is catch 22 in second Test

Published: Wednesday, May 24, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Birmingham:England will try to re-assert themselves when they take on Sri Lanka in the second Test at Edbgaston after letting the series opener slip through their fingers.

Some nine dropped catches at Lord's, allied to a gutsy batting display by the tourists in their second innings, saw England miss the opportunity to go 1-0 up in the best of three contest after their batsmen had piled up 551 for six declared.

No-one within the England camp has yet uttered the dread phrase 'must-win game' but a record of one victory in their last eight Tests means a fresh success can't come soon enough.

England are set to be led again by Andrew Flintoff, continuing to deputise as captain in place of Michael Vaughan who remains sidelined by a knee injury.

With Kevin Pietersen (158), Marcus Trescothick (106) and Alastair Cook (89), Vaughan's replacement at No 3, all making runs at Lord's it wasn't so much his runs as their skipper's leadership skills that England missed most.

Flintoff though already has many of the qualities needed to be a successful captain.

The star all-rounder is clearly worth his place in the side, generates immense loyalty from his team-mates and is good at welcoming inexperienced players such as pace duo Sajid Mahmood and Liam Plunkett into the team.

But the limits of his undeniably charismatic brand of leadership were demonstrated at Lord's, where a lack of tactical flexibility was noticeable, although even the best captain would have struggled to overcome the damage done by so many dropped catches.

Fear of Flintoff 'burningout' before the Ashes series starts in Australia is one of England's constant worries and without Vaughan on hand there was no-one to save the Lancashire star from himself at Lord's, where he bowled 51 overs in the second innings.

Flintoff's high-profile is also seeing him attend a number of celebrity events including being a guest at the Beckhams' pre World Cup party as well as appearing regularly on a weekly television cricket show.

Although there is no suggestion that his extra-curricular activities have yet had an effect on his on-field performances, the concern is they might.

"It's one thing to be in the public eye, putting the game to the fore, but it's another to be absolutely spot-on when the Test match comes around," said David Lloyd, formerly Flintoff's coach with both Lancashire and England.

England have retained uncapped seamer Jon Lewis but dropped Ian Bell from their Lord's squad of 13.

But Lewis's wait for a first Test cap could go on if the selectors stick with the same side on a pitch that could offer more assistance to the spinners than was the case at Lord's.

That would be good news for England left-armer Monty Panesar but even more so for Sri Lanka talisman Muttiah Muralitharan.

What will concern the slow bowlers is that the pitch has been shifted across bringing the Hollies Stand boundary, square of the strip, into range for even a mishit six.

Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene led his side well with a battling hundred at Lord's, where former skipper Sanath Jayasuriya joined the squad.

But the inexperienced Upul Tharanga and Chamara Kapugedera, not to mention Thilan Samraweera, responded to the prospect of left-handed opener Jayasuriya taking a batting spot at Edgbaston with hundreds against Sussex in Sri Lanka's final match before the second Test.

Jayasuriya, who didn't play in that game, might be a candidate to replace the out-of-form Jehan Mubarak but Sri Lanka's greatest concern appears to be the lack of effective support for senior quick bowler Chaminda Vaas.

That may lead to Lasith Malinga, a paceman with a distinctive slingshot action, being called up to give the England batsmen a fresh challenge.

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