After a commanding victory in the three-day first Test at Headingley, England will be expecting to wrap up the series when Sri Lanka arrive at Chester-le-Street for Friday’s second encounter, where pre-match thoughts are likely to centre around just how long the match will last.
Here are five other things to look out for in Durham.
1 Is Woakes The New Stokes?
Well, no, but he’s at least got to try and be for a couple of matches.
The in-form Jake Ball waits in the wings, but it is Wawrickshire’s Chris Woakes who is the man most likely to replace his near sound-alike Ben Stokes, who has been cruelly ruled out of this clash on his home ground after undergoing a knee operation which will keep him out until Pakistan visit in July.
For Woakes – who took a career-best nine for 36 against Durham (at Edgbaston) this week – this would represent a chance at redemption in what would be his first Test appearance since a dismal outing in Centurion in January, when match figures of 1-144 featured in a heavy defeat to South Africa in which Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock all hit centuries in the first innings.
But like Stokes – who bowled just seven overs in the first Test, taking the wicket of Dinesh Chandimal – Woakes’ impact on the attack probably shouldn’t be judged on wickets taken, and rather his ability to back up what England’s three strike bowlers are doing.
He should find that easier to do with Steven Finn added to the attack alongside James Anderson and Stuart Broad, unlike in South Africa where he was effectively asked to take up Finn’s role, and failed.
2 Promoting Jonny Bairstow Could Be A Happy Accident
The loss of Stokes is a blow, but one happy element to come out of it is that it should mean Jonny Bairstow gets promoted up the order, with the in-form Yorkshireman going to No. 6, Moeen Ali to No. 7 and Woakes in at No. 8.
It sounds like one of those moments when sport is over-simplified, but giving your better players more time to play is going to give you a better chance of winning, and the form that Bairstow is in right now shows that he is one of England’s very best.
His majestic 140 in front of his adoring fellow Yorkshiremen and women at Headingley was what took the game away from Sri Lanka at the one moment they were well and truly in it, and was one of those innings in which the mere numbers which come up at the end of it are less important than its impact upon the game itself.
Sri Lanka won’t want to see him again, and certainly not earlier than last time.
Bairstow is 6.50 to be England's top batsman in the first innings
3 Has Leaving Been On Top Of Sri Lanka’s Long To-Do List?
‘We need to practice leaving decisively’ said Angelo Mathews in Sri Lanka’s first Test post-mortem, in one of those uniquely cricket utterances which makes non-lovers of the game glaze over. He was right, obviously.
At Headingley, far too often the tourists’ bats were drawn to swinging, pacy deliveries which – whilst good – didn’t ultimately need to be played.
Their performance was another of an increasing amount of disjointed, sub-par displays which visiting teams have a habit of producing during their early Tests in what are admittedly difficult and unique conditions, but the challenge is always to get better in the second one.
‘Leaving decisively’ will help a side which averaged just 10-and-a-half runs per wicket in the first Test.
It has to, before the competitive element of this series leaves for good.
4 The Spotlight Falls On Nick Compton… Again
The one thing you can’t accuse Nick Compton of is a lack of self-awareness, as he’s spent the build-up to this Test comparing himself unfavourably to Brian Lara, Ben Stokes, his own grandfather and just about anyone else who’s ever picked up a bat.
“We're in the entertainment business. It's about getting bums on seats and I suppose watching Ben Stokes’ 200 is better than watching Compton's 80,” he said, referring to himself in the third person in that concerning way that people under pressure tend to do from time to time.
The problem is that he’s not been getting that 80 recently.
His six most recent Test innings have returned scores of 15, 26, 0, 19, 6 and 0 – which doesn’t even add up to 80 – and for the second time in a stop-start Test career he is coming under pressure, with a certain Ian Bell wanting his No. 3 place back.
Somewhat at odds with the dynamic, entertaining cricketers around him in the England team, Compton would appear to exist in his own little world at the moment, and only runs in these next two Tests will make him seem part of things again.
Compton is 1.87 to score under 26.5 runs in the first innings
5 Can Stuart Broad Do It At Durham Again?
The last time he donned his England whites in Durham three years ago, Stuart Broad – still regarded as the No. 1 Test bowler in the world – burned through six Australian batsmen to record figures of 6-20 in 45 balls, winning the Ashes as a result.
He returns as an older, wiser and better player, and with Chester-le-Street’s future as a Test venue looking decidedly uncertain, then Broad will see this as a chance to help it bow out with a bang in the absence of home favourite Stokes.
One of his devastating spells would be most welcome down by the Riverside, where he is likely to be the bowler that Sri Lanka fear the most.
Broad is 6.00 to take five wickets in the first innings
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