England have knack of coming unstuck as they chase a Test series whitewash but they will hope to complete the job against Sri Lanka at Lord’s this week — despite clear signs of improvement from the tourists.
England are 2-0 up with one Test to play, but the match starting on Thursday has more riding on it than it might appear for the hosts after recent series victories ended on a low note.
Last year, having won the Ashes, England suffered an innings and 46-run defeat by Australia in the fifth Test at The Oval. There was a similarly heavy reverse in South Africa in January when, 2-0 up with one to play, England lost the fourth Test at Centurion by 280 runs.
Although they won the second Test against Sri Lanka in Chester-le-Street by nine wickets, there were warning signs for England during that success.
Sri Lanka, having become the first team since New Zealand in 1958 to be dismissed for under 120 in three successive Test innings, made 475 in the second knock in Durham — including a fine hundred by Dinesh Chandimal.
A typically good Lord’s pitch could make life harder still for fast bowlers in London, with the most even contest of the series so far in prospect.
“I expect them to continue improving,” England batting coach Mark Ramprakash said Tuesday of Sri Lanka.
“I thought they made a really good fist of it in that second innings — Chandimal was exceptional. They’re growing in confidence… The pitch will be better here, the conditions may be more to their liking.”
England’s two biggest doubts concern a pair of players who know Lord’s well as it is their Middlesex home ground.
Top-order batsman Nick Compton has been struggling for runs, and fast bowler Steven Finn for wickets.
With England having again selected a 12-man squad, it looks as if Compton will get another match at number three.
Finn’s place is under threat from uncapped seamer Jake Ball, although England appear ready to retain the Middlesex quick.