Welcome to Sri Lanka
Bob Willis reacts to a tough opening two days on tour for England and ponders some selection issues.
Last Updated: 21/11/07 3:33pm
If this England squad didn't know what Test cricket over there is all about before they landed in Colombo, they do now.
Two days of cricket have come and gone for England on this latest tour of Sri Lanka, this time for the longer form of the game after their recent one-day success, and still they wait to bat.
A declaration at stumps on the second evening against the Sri Lanka Board's President's XI means that England's batsmen will have their turn on Thursday but for the first two days the England squad, and the bowlers in particular, have been given a rude awakening to the realities of the game in Sri Lanka.
Michael Vaughan has spread the workload between his bowlers for two days, to varying degrees of success, and already there is plenty of food for thought for the captain, the coach, Peter Moores, and England's selectors.
The spinners took a bit of a caning on Tuesday - Graeme Swann's 12 overs on day one went for 65 runs (5.41 per over) while Monty Panesar's eight overs went for 43 runs (5.38 per over). The pair of them reined it back in again on Wednesday but economy rates around 4.5 per over is not what is required on the sub-continent from your spinners.
The whole point about playing cricket in Sri Lanka is having control when you bowl and that is where you rely on your spinners. On the evidence of the first two days of this tour England will have to rethink a four-pronged attack that included two spinners; they have been too expensive.
Obviously you would have to make the selection based on a specific surface but England will need more control than has been so far - the sort of control demonstrated by the seam attack, Matthew Hoggard and Stuart Broad in particular.
Hoggard has always been the real deal for England, whether the ball is swinging, seaming or not, he can exercise control and it isn't by accident that he has taken 200 Test match wickets.
For Broad this is just another movement in the right direction up the learning curve and he has looked an exceptional talent since we first clapped eyes on him. His batting is not to be under-estimated and, if he works on that, he could be the No.8 England are looking for in Test match cricket (and the No.8 or No.9 in ODI cricket).
I don't think you can play five front-line bowlers with Matt Prior batting six - I wouldn't want Prior so high - and so I would think they will want either Ravi Bopara or Owais Shah involved at six, Prior at seven. They may go with three seamers, Bopara and Collingwood as the fourth seamer and one spinner, the best one, Monty Panesar.
For all bowlers, these are the most testing conditions in the world because the pitches are slow and the weather is hot and humid. It is a tough place to play.
Ask Steve Harmison! Given a bowl eventually when his boots arrived from South Africa - he might have wished they didn't - he went for 48 in six overs.
His figures, and those of Panesar and Swann, not to mention that England took only five wickets and none of the bowlers took more than one each, highlighted a rude awakening for Vaughan's team.
It leaves plenty more work to do in the next match before the Tests begin but perhaps one thing has worked in their favour.
I am not quite sure why Sri Lanka would want to bat for two days; perhaps they want to deny England some batting practice, but I suspect this workout will have done the bowlers a lot of good, acclimatising them to very testing conditions, even if it doesn't feel like it right now.