Take away Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga and what do you get? Runs, England will be hoping.
The Three Lions’ batting line-up is among the best in the world and they will be hoping to have a field day at the expense of the touring party which has been shorn of two of its most dangerous wicket takers through retirement.
Stuart Law, Sri Lanka’s Australian interim coach, feels England are “the best Test team in the world at the moment” after their victory over his countrymen in the Ashes and a series victory here for the hosts will continue to help them towards their aim of being the ICC’s number one-ranked team in the five-day game.
Everyone knows who England’s danger men are, but the wonder is who will get themselves among the runs in the first Test of the three-match series at Cardiff?
Captain Andrew Strauss is a steady compiler at the top of the order and has posted some decent scores in the build up for Middlesex in the county game. So has fellow opener Alastair Cook who will be well rested having skipped the World Cup after proving he was the real deal when hitting 766 runs down under.
Rock steady Jonathan Trott is about as reliable as they come at number three and no Englishman scored more than the 1,325 in Tests than he did in 2010. Kevin Pietersen has looked like a man in a hurry his whole career and chances are he’ll either be back in the pavilion in no time or smashing a double-quick century here.
Here are the runs spreads for the England team (c/o Sporting Index):
Just before the World Cup began I looked at England’s spread markets, and despite going unbeaten in their opening two group games, Sporting Index have revised their quote on the Three Lions in the outright market, moving them from 19-22 to 17-20.
Next up is the derby against Ireland and England will know they cannot take the threat posed by William Porterfield’s side lightly having already been run close by another Associate nation. Their slim margin of victory against Netherlands will make supremacy buyers wary, but this must be weighed-up against matching India’s huge total on Sunday.
Andrew Strauss looked in great nick then and his hefty knock of 158 against the hosts puts him at the head of the tournament batting charts with a total of 246 runs and an average of 123.00. Tim Bresnan is England’s leading wicket taker in the competition and he will be looking to carry on from where he left off after ending with figures of 5/48 against India.
The Irish came up short in their only game so far against Bangladesh, but not before looking like they would give the Tigers a good run for their money, as wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien top-scored with 38, one more than his brother Kevin.
Young George Dockrell displayed his talents in that game with two wickets and England will be keeping a close eye on him for another reason – the 18-year-old spinner has said in the build-up to this game that he is considering pursuing a career with the English Test side.
On the eve of the tenth installment of the cricket World Cup, England’s fifty over form will have the Barmy Army worried and punters wondering if it’s all going to go as badly as some are predicting, or whether there’s actually a chance to make a few quid.
Sporting Index have set England’s outright index at 19-22 (60-40-20-10-0). So, according to them at least, the Three Lions can be expected to reach the semi-finals before bowing out.
The traders look to have played it pretty safe here. Andrew Strauss’ men will anticipate getting through the group stage with the top four advancing and India, South Africa, West Indies, Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands for company.
Once it gets to the quarters – assuming England don’t fall at the first hurdle – their finishing position is going to depend very much on which team turns up, and whether their injuries have cleared up. If they can emulate the achievements of the 20 over boys who claimed the country’s maiden international trophy with the World Twenty20 last year – or that of the Test squad which retained the Ashes this winter – then they will be laughing. On the other hand, play like they just did in the one day series against Australia when they were walloped 6-1 and they could be in all sorts of trouble.
England supporters will be absolutely thrilled with how preparations for the 2011 Ashes are going down under. At the time of writing, England appear to be in an excellent position to claim their second tour victory after a thrilling 192 from renaissance man Ian Bell. During the innings he hit 22 fours and demolished the Australia A bowling attack.
Earlier in the tour, Western Australia were comfortably beaten by six wickets with two notable totals from Kevin Pietersen (58) and Andrew Strauss (120 n.o.). In fact, from his first four innings in Australia, Strauss has averaged 80, so it's no surprise to see Sporting Index's quote for his Test series runs at a high 375-395. But beware! Good form leading into the Test series is not always a good indicator of performance when the real competitive action gets underway.
Some may remember that Ravi Bopara hit a rich vein of form ahead of the 2009 Ashes series in England. The Essex batsman had the cricket traders running scared after the he notched three consecutive Test centuries before the Ashes opener. Plenty of spread bettors followed the reasonable logic and bought Bopara’s series runs.
By the fifth Test, Bopara had been dropped from the side after only accumulating 105 runs from four matches. His highest score was just 35 in Cardiff's Sophia Gardens, while in three of his seven innings he scored only either one or zero runs.
To buy or not to buy? When it comes to England’s Ashes series win index, that is the question. This really does look like our best chance of not only getting one over on the old enemy, but doing it in their own backyard. No, not at the Kennington Oval, in Australia.
Most of today’s side were barely out of nappies – and Steven Finn wasn’t even born – the last time England triumphed in Australia yet, as the Three Lions jet off for three-and-a-bit months down under, hopes are high that Straussy and co won’t just be heading off an extended holiday.
Not that there was much fun in the sun last time out as England crashed to a 5-0 whitewash and an expectant home support won’t settle for anything less than another win for their boys. However, after consecutive Ashes defeats in Blighty, the pressure is on Ricky Ponting.
Gone are the days when the Baggy Greens could intimidate their opposition into conceding wickets and this side looks pretty ordinary by comparison to their swashbuckling predecessors. They are even ranked below the tourists in the current ICC rankings and, with a draw enough for England to retain the Ashes; it could be a while before the Aussies get their hands on the urn again.