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Another Pietersen, Murali encounter on cards

Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
 
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Nottingham:Sri Lanka have been accused of being a one-man team for years.

The tag, however, could just as easily be applied to England as the two teams square up for the third and final test at Trent Bridge.

Muttiah Muralitharan and Kevin Pietersen have not only dominated the series but their enthralling head-to-head has also provided its focal point.

The Sri Lankan spinner has taken 13 of his team's 19 wickets in the first two games but Pietersen's 158 at Lord's and his 142 at Edgbaston have proved even more valuable, giving the home side a 1-0 lead before Friday's start.

The South Africa-born right-hander, as his captain Andrew Flintoff acknowledged, was the difference between the two sides at Edgbaston.

His unique batting style, made up of his huge reach and a tennis-style top-spin stroke to leg, was once considered more suited to one-dayers than tests but the critics have been dispatched as quickly as opposition bowlers. He has scored three hundreds in his last three home tests.

Muralitharan has quickly joined the ranks of his admirers.

''He's got everything in his armoury,'' he said, before comparing him to the likes of Brian Lara, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Sachin Tendulkar and adding: ''He's on top of the world.'' The 34-year-old Muralitharan, however, who is probably playing his last test in England, had the consolation of dismissing his tormentor cheaply in the second innings at Edgbaston to limit the size of England's six-wicket win.

The pair's personal battle will again attract the most attention at Trent Bridge.

England, who look certain to be unchanged, already have much to celebrate.

Their young imports have all scored successes, with fast-medium bowler Liam Plunkett and batsman Alastair Cook particularly impressive, in the absence of Michael Vaughan and Steve Harmison. Left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, while derided in some quarters for his fielding, has also provided a new edge to a bowling attack admirably led by the 11-wicket Matthew Hoggard.

Sri Lanka's newest additions have been less convincing.

Jehan Mubarak was dropped after a double failure in the first test, while fellow opener Upul Tharanga made a pair at Edgbaston.

Sri Lanka's best opening partnership to date stands at 10.

Farveez Maharoof, aged 21 like Tharanga, has also struggled, taking one wicket for 167 with his fast-medium bowling.

His starting slot is likely to be reviewed, with quick bowler Nuwan Zoysa and leg-spinner Malinga Bandara as possible options.

The more experienced Thilan Samaraweera could also face the axe. Batting at five, he is averaging 4.25.

A return for Sanath Jayasuriya, however, seems unlikely.

In his prime, Jayasuriya was as unconventional and explosive a batsman as Pietersen but he is now 37.

Coach Tom Moody and the rest of Sri Lanka's team management have opted to give youth a chance and a change of policy seems unlikely.

Whatever changes are made, the odds remain in England's favour.

Sri Lanka have won only one of nine tests in England and that success, in 1998, was built almost entirely on Muralitharan's efforts. The off spinner took 16 wickets in the match and was deprived of a historic 10-wicket haul only by Alec Stewart's run-out in the second innings.

It may take something similar from him, plus a little more support from the likes of Chaminda Vaas (currently three wickets at 55.33 runs each) and Lasith Malinga (two at 48.50), to record win number two.

Teams (from): England - Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff (captain), Geraint Jones, Liam Plunkett, Matthew Hoggard, Sajid Mahmood, Monty Panesar, Jon Lewis.

Sri Lanka - Upal Tharanga, Michael Vandort, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Thilan Samaraweera, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chamara Kapugedera, Farveez Maharoof, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Nuwan Kulasekara, Malinga Bandara, Nuwan Zoysa, Lasith Malinga

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