Andrew Strauss accepts England have “one final chance” to salvage something from their winter programme but denies his captaincy is on a similar knife-edge.
After the highs of last summer, when a 4-0 whitewash of India saw England reach the summit of the ICC’s Test rankings, 2012 has started in ignominious fashion.
A 3-0 defeat against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates was followed by last week’s 75-run loss to Sri Lanka in Galle, and today’s second Test in Colombo presents their last opportunity to return to winning ways before the domestic summer.
Nobody has been subjected to more scrutiny in that period than Strauss, whose record of one century in his past 48 Test knocks has combined with the team’s recent wobble.
The 35-year-old, whose captaincy had hitherto been considered an unflinching success since he took over in January 2009, was asked about his position for the first time in the aftermath of the Galle defeat.
The topic resurfaced at yesterday’s pre-match press conference, where a stony-faced Strauss was keen to emphasise the importance of the team’s fortunes instead of lingering on his own.
“It hasn’t gone according to plan, certainly,” he said.
“We haven’t been as consistent as we’d like to be but we’ve got one final chance to salvage something from the winter to allow us to go into the summer with some momentum.
“The captaincy is not something I’ve considered. Going into this game, it’s really not something on my mind. People are always entitled to their opinions but I don’t necessarily share them.
“The pressure is no more than normal. I want to score some runs, there is no doubt about that, but I’m very confident and I think we have the materials to do well in this Test.
“We’re very motivated to show that we can play a lot better than we have so far on this tour, and that’s what we’ll be doing over the next five days.”
Reflecting on what has been the most trying period of his three-year reign, Strauss admitted it was an inevitable part of the job.
It is also one he feels well-equipped to confront.
“When you play cricket for any length of time, you realise there will always be some story running in the background,” he said.
“Sometimes it will be about yourself, sometimes it will be about other people. The most important thing is that you don’t let it distract you and you concentrate on what is important, which is getting your own game in order and making sure the rest of the team are in order as well.
“That is one of the real challenges of leadership or captaincy. It’s easy when it’s going well: everyone is buoyant and happy and patting each other on the back. When times are tough, that’s when it’s important you stand up and lead and show people the right direction.
“I like that sort of challenge. It hasn’t gone our way so far this winter but I retain absolute faith in our players and the way we like to play our cricket that it will turn round.
“Sometimes you’ll go through patches where things don’t work out your way, both individually and collectively, and if you retain faith it will turn round.”
With Stuart Broad back home nursing a calf strain, England are set to recall Steven Finn and Tim Bresnan, leaving Ravi Bopara, Samit Patel and Monty Panesar vying for one place.
Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene still rates England as the No 1 side in the world, despite their recent struggles in the sub-continent.
While many see an England side shorn of confidence and lacking in a clear strategy against spin bowling, Jayawardene is not underestimating the tourists.
“England have played some really good cricket the last two years,” he said.
“They beat Australia in Australia, they played well in South Africa and they have been really good in English conditions. That is reflected in their results.
“There are five or six teams in the world playing really good cricket now, so on any given day they can beat each other, but England have set the standards.
“It has been difficult for them in the sub-continent, so for us it’s about challenging them here just as it is about challenging ourselves in English conditions.”
The match sees Sri Lanka and England take to the field at the P.Sara Stadium for the first time since the home team’s inaugural Test match in 1982.
That match was the culmination of decades of cricketing progress in the country and Jayawardene is pleased to be returning.
“It is going to be somewhat emotional. We do have a rich history and everyone who plays (today) will be part of it.
Sri Lanka: M Jayawardene, A Mathews, T Samaraweera, T Dilshan, R Herath, P Jayawardene (wkt), S Randiv, S Lakmal, D Prasad, K Sangakkara, L Thirimanne.
England (from): A Strauss, J Anderson, I Bell, R Bopara, T Bresnan, A Cook, S Finn, M Panesar, S Patel, K Pietersen, M Prior (wkt), G Swann, J Trott.
Umpires: A Rauf (Pak), B Oxenford (Aus). Third umpire: R Tucker (Aus).
Match referee: J Srinath (Ind).