Dry Kandy wicket puzzles England

Published: Friday, November 30, 2007, 17:06 [IST]
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The changed nature of the pitch from green to barren brown has forced England to delay naming their team for the first Test against Sri Lanka starting on Saturday.

A startled England captain Michael Vaughan would not commit on his side, saying he wanted to wait until the last moment to ensure the best combination took the field at the Asgiriya stadium.

"It's been a difficult decision," Vaughan said of the likely team after a long training session on Friday.

"We came to the ground yesterday to see a wicket that was very green, and we have come to the ground today and found it has changed a fair bit.

"We have had a couple of long meetings about the final eleven, which proves we have got players in the squad who are pushing for places. It's been a hard decision."

England must decide between Test rookie Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah for the number six spot left vacant by the injured Andrew Flintoff and if a second spinner is needed instead of three seamers.

Vaughan said he wanted bowlers who were capable of taking 20 wickets to win the match and did not rule out playing Graeme Swann even though the off-spinner did not feature in the first-class match in Colombo this week.

"I think you can make too much of the warm-ups," said Vaughan. "A lot of the guys have just been to Sri Lanka for the one-day series in October, and so we all feel mentally ready and in good touch.

"It's just a matter of trying to groove those skills and make sure our mentality is right for Test match cricket. We need to work on our plans and strategies against all their unorthodox players."

Vaughan said picking between Bopara, who has yet to play a Test despite holding a regular place in recent one-day teams, and Shah was a "real hard decision."

"Bopara and Shah are both very skilled players, and in these conditions they are very suited to this style of play," said Vaughan. "They both play spin very well. It's a real hard decision as to which gets the number six spot."

Vaughan hinted that strike bowler Steve Harmison, who suffered back spasms in the practice match, was unlikely to be risked in the first Test.

"Steve is available and he bowled a lot at the nets," said Vaughan. "But it would be a slight risk as we saw him walk off after bowling 10 or 11 overs in the last game."

If Swann does not make a surprise entry, England will field a three-man seam attack of Matthew Hoggard, left-armer Ryan Sidebottom and James Anderson on the dry wicket expected to get slower.

The main threat to England will be off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who needs just five wickets to surpass retired Australian spinner Shane Warne's world record tally of 708 Test wickets.

Muralitharan has grabbed 205 wickets in his past 25 home Tests, but Vaughan wanted to focus on the entire Sri Lankan team instead of one bowler.

"He does not totally dominate our thoughts as that would be disrespectful to the other players in their team," Vaughan said of the master spinner.

"But we would be silly not to put him at the forefront of our minds.

"Everyone will play him in their own individual fashion. Some will try to grind him out, others will try to attack him. That is all I ever say. As long as you have a plan, go and do it."

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