at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London - The lack of a front-line spinner to replace Graeme Swann continues to vex English cricket but captain Alastair Cook insists their four-man pace attack remains the best option heading into the second Test against Sri Lanka on Friday.
James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Liam Plunkett and Chris Jordan on debut bowled manfully on a flat wicket in the first test at Lord's, turning a match that appeared destined for a draw on its head with six wickets in Monday's remarkable final session.
Sri Lanka's No11 batsman Nuwan Pradeep was left grimly hanging on at the close, seeing out the final five balls, including successfully reviewing an lbw decision on the penultimate delivery to ensure the series is still up for grabs in the second and final match at Headingley starting Friday.
England used all-rounder Moeen Ali as their spin option, but the Worcestershire man is a batsman first and failed to seriously trouble the Sri Lanka batsmen, claiming only the scalp of Kumar Sangakkara in his combined 28 overs.
Swann took 255 wickets in 60 tests but abruptly retired midway through the 5-0 Ashes defeat in Australia, and with Peter Moores replacing Andy Flower as coach earlier this year, Cook admitted they had yet to discuss a long-term spin-bowling plan.
“We know we need a front-line spinner to balance the attack,” he told a news conference on Thursday ahead of the second match, which will be batsman Ian Bell's 100th test.
“You don't become a really good side without one. At the moment, with our options, we think this is the best side, so we might carry on seeing this side play until we feel there is someone ready to play. It is a cause of concern and something which we need to try and address as quick as we can.”
Of more immediate worry is the over rate, with Cook facing a ban after being fined 20 per cent of his match fee following the Lord's test.
Without a top-class spinner getting through a significant workload, England failed to bowl their full requirement of overs, a factor that could have cost them victory given the close nature of the finish.
“It's obviously not ideal to get fined and get on that list they hand out with the warnings,” Cook said.
“It's something we've spoken about as a team and you can look clearly at some of the footage where we took our time. There is time where there is thinking time and you have to allow yourself to change tactics and do whatever.
“We played four seamers in a little bit of Australia but we had a front-line spinner that you knew would get your over rate back a bit. It's just the balance of the side which unsettles a little bit in terms of the time.”
England are likely to name the same team for the second test, while Sri Lanka are set to be without wicketkeeper-batsman Prasanna Jayawardene with an injured finger, as well as quick Suranga Lakmal, who missed the first test with a hamstring tear.
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews, who, along with Sangakkara, Joe Root and Gary Ballance, scored a century on a lifeless Lord's pitch, said after winning the one-day international series they were determined to leave England with another victory under their belt.
“We've been taking a lot of positives from that game, the way we fought, the way the boys showed their character, but our bowling, batting and fielding can still improve,” he said.
“It's going to be our last game here in England for this summer and we look forward to giving them a good fight and hopefully winning it.” – Reuters