In-form Cook to lead England to a series victory in Sri Lanka

A LACK of preparation was to blame for England’s recent sorry 3-0 Test series defeat at the hands of Pakistan and ironically, it’s the lack of preparation by their opponents which may help Andrew Strauss’s men land the two match Test series against Sri Lanka which begins on Monday.

The hosts will line-up in Galle next week on the back of more than 20 straight one-day matches in a 10-week period stretching back to their last Test match action in South Africa, just a few days into 2012. The chosen starting XI will walk straight into Monday’s game without a warm-up match and will face a well-prepared England team full of confidence after recording two straight wins against a Sri Lankan Board XI and a Development XI.

The Sri Lankans will also take to the field fairly demoralised after a terrible showing in the Asia Cup. They lost all three games which included an embarrassing five wicket defeat at the hands of Bangladesh.

England won the ODI series against Pakistan 4-0 and then went on to record a 2-1 T20 series win against the same opponents. Not only would those victories have restored a strong team confidence, it also allowed some out-of-sorts batsmen like Kevin Pietersen to knock themselves back into form.

England can be backed at 11/8 with Coral to win the series and that seems like fair value. In fact, I certainly wouldn’t put anyone off backing the 2-0 series whitewash at 11/2 as an English victory in the opening match would see the hosts’ confidence hit rock-bottom.

A back-to-form Pietersen will obviously have plenty of supporters in the top England series batsman market at 4/1 (just 3/1 with Coral), although I prefer the chances of Alastair Cook at the freely available 11/4. Cook has been in great nick recently and followed a scintillating ODI series against Pakistan with a cheeky 163 not out in the first of England’s two warm-up games.

The key to the 27-year-old left-hander’s success abroad is his ability to retain his concentration levels and bat for long-periods of time in unbearable heat.

His colleagues in the national side have already nicknamed him the ‘freak’ because he doesn’t sweat in tortuous conditions. Apparently, he rarely needs to change his gloves and his forehead is always dry after strenuous warm-up runs. If he continues in the same vein of form, it’s hard to envisage anyone else topping the scoring charts.

As for top English bowler, almost everyone expects the spinners to come out on top and it’s perfectly understandable that Swann (just 11/8 with Coral) and Panesar (generally 5/2) head the lists. If you forced me to back one of the pair, I’d probably side with Monty as there isn’t much between the two and he’s arguably in better form.

However, I cannot resist having a few quid on James Anderson at 9/2 as that simply looks a massive price. England’s seam attack performed well enough on extremely unhelpful pitches in Dubai and 9/2 is too big for a fresh Anderson who remains one of the world’s best new-ball bowlers.

POINTERS...

England to win the series at 11/8 with Coral
Alastair Cook to be England’s top series batsman at 11/4 with Coral
James Anderson to be England’s top series bowler at 9/2 with Blue Square