England looks to seal series against Sri Lanka

Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Nottingham:England will look to seal their first Test series victory since last year's Ashes triumph against Australia when they face Sri Lanka in the climax of a three-Test campaign at Trent Bridge.

England went 1-0 up thanks to a six-wicket second Test win at Edgbaston, completed with more than a day to spare, on Sunday.

But they were grateful to be chasing a slight target of 78 as off-spin great Muttiah Muralitharan took four for 29.

So far this series Kevin Pietersen has been the backbone of England's batting with superb scores of 158, equal to his Test-best, in the drawn opener at Lord's and 142 at Edgbaston.

His Edgbaston effort was all the more astonishing as no other England batsman made more than 30 in a first innings total of 295.

But there is a limit to the extent that England can rely on their South Africa-born strokeplayer and after Edgbaston, stand-in captain Andrew Flintoff admitted: "We would have liked to have scored more runs... We should have got closer to 360, 370 in that first innings."

Part of the problem has been the lack of runs from England's lower order in the absence of injured left-arm spinner Ashley Giles.

Monty Panesar, the Warwickshire slow bowler's replacement, has proved his worth with the ball but still has much to do to match Giles's contribution with the bat and in the field.

England's present bottom five have a combined average of 41.20 and this has led to plenty of attention on wicket-keeper Geraint Jones.

Often criticised for his glovework, Jones's inclusion has been defended repeatedly by England coach Duncan Fletcher on the grounds of his batting.

But with just 24 runs in his past five Test innings, the Kent keeper has come under renewed scrutiny.

Getting off the mark has not been a problem for Jones - if he scores a single in both innings at Trent Bridge he will equal Australian Jim Burke's record of 44 Test innings without a nought - but building a big score has.

No England side has ever been unchanged for a three-match series at home but that could happen at Trent Bridge if Jon Lewis, the uncapped Gloucestershire seamer, is once again omitted from the 12-man squad.

And having backed Sajid Mahmood and Liam Plunkett so far this series, it would be a surprise if England dropped either of them even though Trent Bridge has a reputation for aiding swing bowlers such as Lewis.

Meanhwhile the 34-year-old Murali, who took 16 for 220 in Sri Lanka's astonishing 10-wicket Test win against England at The Oval in 1998, has indicated that Friday's match could be his last on English soil, saying: "I am very determined to win at Nottingham and go out in England on a high."

He could yet have a decisive say in the outcome of this series but Murali will need his batsmen to give him more runs to work with than at Edgbaston.

In both Tests of the series so far Sri Lanka have found themselves on the back foot after lowly first innings totals.

Opener Michael Vandort's painstaking second-innings century at Edgbaston was a sign of what Sri Lanka's emerging batsmen could achieve.

But, after Thilan Samaraweera suffered two middle-order failures in Birmingham, former captain and veteran batsman Sanath Jayasuriya - who has been waiting on the sidelines since his arrival during the Lord's Test - could come into the side.

Meanwhile left-arm seamer Nuwan Zoysa could provide better support for new-ball duo Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga than that offered so far by the ineffectual Nuwan Kulasekara.

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