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Sri Lanka openers face daunting task

Written by: Staff

LONDON, May 10 (Reuters) Springtime in England is greeted with relief and delight by all apart from visiting opening batsmen.

Green pitches and extravagant movement in the air and off the seam make batting in the top-order a hazardous business in the early part of the English season.

Sri Lanka's probable first wicket pair of Michael Vandoort and Upal Tharanga will feel particular trepidation tomorrow in the first of the three tests.

Vandoort failed to score a run in either innings during the 10-wicket loss to England A in the penultimate match before the first test while Tharanga managed 20 in the second innings after also recording a first innings duck.

England have packed their attack with pace bowlers for the first of the summer's two Lord's tests and the weather forecast of sunshine and showers will ensure they get maximum assistance from the pitch.

Sri Lankan morale will have been further dented by remarks from chairman of selectors Asthana de Mel at the weekend.

De Mel said his predecessor Lalith Kaluperuma had forced Sanath Jaysuirya into retirement and added the prolific left-hander should play in the final two tests if Vandoort and Tharanga failed at Lord's.

Jaysuirya has retired from test cricket but will play in the one-day series after the final test.

''Sri Lanka now have two inexperienced openers in Upal Thuranga and Michael Vandoort and any bowling attack would love to bowl at them instead of Jayasuriya,'' del Mel told The Sunday Island.

MOODY RESPONSE Moody told reporters at Lord's yesterday he had talked to de Mel earlier in the day and the subject of Jayasuriya had not even been raised.

''Our guys are pretty focused,'' he said. ''It's just something you have to deal with and we will move on.'' Sri Lanka's traditional strength has lain with their flamboyant stroke-players, who brought the exuberance of their one-day style into the test arena.

In the absence of Jayasuriya and the injured captain Marvan Attapatu, they are now a side in transition and fully aware that they will face a pace barrage at Lord's.

''We expect aggression and we'd be alarmed if we didn't get it,'' Moody told a pre-tour news conference.

''The ball will move around but it can move around anywhere in the world, even in Colombo at times. A lot of players enjoy facing pace and it will be no surprise if the ball whistles around their ears.'' Sri Lanka will at least be able to field the best two bowlers in their short test match history.

FIRMER PITCHES Muttiah Muralitharan would prefer to be bowling later in the summer on firmer pitches giving his prodigious off-spin the chance to grip but he remains a danger in any conditions.

Left-arm pace bowler Chaminda Vaas is now a master of swing, both conventional and reverse, and he should relish the conditions at Lord's.

''Muttiah's got 600 wickets so of course he'll be a key bowler,'' captain Mahela Jayawardene told reporters. ''But Vaas coming back is great.

''He's got inside knowledge of English conditions so of course he'll be a key bowler.'' England will take the field without 50 percent of the pace quartet who gave the Australians such a torrid time last year.

Steve Harmison and Simon Jones are both injured, as is the first choice backup James Anderson.

In their absence Sajid Mahmood, Liam Plunkett and Jon Lewis are in the England 13 with acting captain Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard.

England have plenty of options with Monty Panesar replacing injured left-armer Ashley Giles if England decide to field a spinner. If they opt to play an extra batsman Ian Bell, who has lost the number three spot to Alastair Cook, will play.

Lewis, who at 30 is both older and slower than Mahmood and Plunkett, owes his selection to the nine wickets he took for England A and his late movement could win him a test debut.

Reuters PDS VP0745

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