One of the most astonishing aspects of this soon to conclude England - Sri Lanka ODI series is the fact that it is somehow against all odds locked at 2-2. The series has been anything but competitive with both teams recording thumping wins in the 4 games so far. Sri Lanka were largely outplayed in the Test Series and were fortunate not to lose it by a bigger margin, but were unfortunate to lose the one game that they did playing rather poor cricket on the final day in Cardiff. The sole T20 went Sri Lanka's way, but they would consider the tour a failure should they not win the ODI Series. England on the other hand have made the most of home conditions, but have proved to be inadequate when the pitches were flat and the game was played on an even keel. One can only hope that the teams make a contest out of the final ODI and we get a fitting finale to the English summer.
Sri Lanka's batting problems in seamer friendly conditions once again came to haunt them in the 4th ODI. They will be praying to the weather Gods to keep the meandering clouds away on game day. The same swing bowlers who were being carted all over the park by a 21-year-old wicketkeeper in the 3rd ODI, flocked together like birds of a feather to claim all the 10 wickets in the 4th one. The match will be staged at Old Trafford in Manchester and England will be eager to thrive once again in what are usually overcast conditions.
After another splendid batting performance by England's captain Alastair Cook, his critics have been rendered speechless and it would be a perfect time to say-Alastair take a bow, Mike Atherton take a walk! Cook also found an able partner in Craig Kieswetter whose agricultural approach might prompt the critics to carp about his technique, but that is how he has scored most of his 841 ODI runs and the two fifties in this series. Jonathan Trott's inability to get going since the 1st test against Sri Lanka, would be a cause for concern, but there is little he can do to rectify that problem if England keep winning by 10 wickets! Other than his failure in the 3rd ODI, Morgan's fine form will continue to please the selectors. Pietersen meanwhile, seems to be stuck in limbo. He can neither play a match-winning innings nor completely fail with the bat. The former skipper will be hoping to finally make one of his starts count for something.
It cannot be confidently said whether England's bowling is genuinely threatening or it becomes insuperable only when the conditions allow it to. The man for all seasons, Graeme Swann astonishingly went wicketless in the last match despite giving away just 31 runs in 10 overs. The pertinacious Stuart Broad finally broke his jinx and got two wickets and might have captured a few more had the edges fallen in the right places. The most impressive bowler was undoubtedly James Anderson, who virtually becomes unplayable with the new ball and cloud cover. The handsome Jade Dernbach also put in a fine performance to strike three blows and alongwith Tim Bresnan, should retain his place in the absence of glorious sunshine in Manchester.
There are problems a plenty for the Sri Lankan batting. While the failures of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Dinesh Chandimal are understandable and justified, what is one to make of the repeated let-downs of Thillina Kadamby. He is like an expired cosmetic product, which might cause no harm on usage, but is useless otherwise. Kumar Sangakkara followed his august speech at MCC with an equally mesmerizing knock of 75 under tough conditions. With the stage set for the most important match of this series, we can expect him and Mahela Jayawardene to prove their mettle once again. Angelo Mathews' flamboyant 39 proved to be under par on Wednesday, but as they say-Cometh the hour, cometh the man and who better than Angelo to once again set the stage on fire. In addition, if Chandimal gets as many runs as his average of 63 indicates, it should be a worthwhile knock.
Putting the blame of a batting fiasco on bowlers would be unwarranted. The pitch after all had no help for the Sri Lankan spinners who have caused the maximum concerns for the English batsmen so far. A word on Lasith Malinga, while the big guns of Sri Lanka with the exception of Dilshan have fired in one match or the other, Malinga's performances have just been hovering from decent to respectable. While the stakes could get no higher, it is high time that Malinga repudiates the notion of him being a T20 wonder. Nuwan Kulasekara has been average throughout the series and was woefully expensive in the last match, thus giving Thisara Perrera an outside chance of making it to the playing XI.
England - C Kieswetter, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, K Pieterson, I Bell, E Morgan, Tim Bresnan, G Swann, S Broad, J Dernbach, J Anderson.
Sri Lanka - T Dilshan, M Jayawardene, K Sangakkara, T Kadamby, A Matthews, J Mendis, D Chandimal, N Kulasekara, L Malinga, S Randiv, S Lakmal.
6 July 2011 defeated Sri Lanka by 10 wickets (D/L method)
3 July 2011 lost to Sri Lanka by 6 wickets
1 July 2011 lost to Sri Lanka by 61 runs
28 June 2011 defeated Sri Lanka by 110 runs (D/L method)
26 March 2011 lost to Sri Lanka by 10 wickets
Sri Lanka (LWWLL)
6 July 2011 lost to England by 10 wickets (D/L method)
3 July 2011 defeated England by 6 wickets
1 July 2011 defeated England by 61 runs.
28 June 2011 lost to England by 110 runs (D/L method)
2 April 2011 lost to India by 6 wickets
Watch out for
Alastair Cook- his 95*, 119 and 48 speak volumes about his form in the ODI series and why he should be watched out for. In fact, since the time the last Ashes series began, Cook has been going great guns and it was only a matter of time before he would barge into the ODI squad. Guess Mike Atherton's "donkey" has become the English lion.
Ultimately, it will all boil down to the contribution of Sanga and Mahela. The Islanders will keep their fingers crossed for one last Mahela "summer special" because whenever his bat does the talking Sri Lanka wins.
Prediction: The outcome of the match will be governed by a few factors. Among them the weather conditions are most important. Also Sri Lanka appear to be more comfortable batting second in seamer friendly conditions, although there is no guarantee to that. A few mini contests including that between Mathews and Swann, Cook and Malinga, Mahela and Anderson will eventually decide the winner. The smart money has to be on England, but you can expect the lone Lankan lion to make a fist of it.