England get their tour of Sri Lanka underway tomorrow morning in the form of the first Test match at Galle.
Here, we preview the first game of the tour by taking a closer look at both sides.
Moeen Ali looks set to miss both Test matches now, following the news that he would not be joining the squad on Wednesday as originally thought. It’s an extremely unfortunate turn of events for Mo, who needs to be looked after over the coming days as he continues to isolate. Chris Silverwood has revealed that he hopes to have him back training at the weekend, but the expectation is that the Worcestershire man won’t be sharp enough in time to feature in the second Test.
On the cricket field, Moeen will be missed; the likelihood is that England will have been planning to play all three of their frontline spinners: Moeen, Dom Bess, and Jack Leach. Now that they can’t do that, they need to decide whether to go with a third specialist spinner or to opt for an extra seamer and the part-time spin of the skipper.
Joe Root has suggested that they will probably opt for the latter. That would mean Sam Curran should play alongside one of Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson, and one of Mark Wood and Olly Stone – with Chris Woakes questionable due to injury. We could even see all four of those men featuring at some point over the next fortnight, such is the need for rotation in a year overflowing with Test cricket.
Sri Lanka have been boosted by the addition of Angelo Mathews and Nuwan Pradeep to their squad. Both are experienced Test cricketers, and Mathews in particular has caused problems for England in the past. He is a fine batsman and will bolster the hosts’ top 6 significantly.
Now that there is no Rangana Herath to torment England’s top order, Sri Lanka do look a little more reliant on their seam-bowling options than they previously have. Lakmal (although he may be short of match fitness), Chameera, and Vishwa and Asitha Fernando are all capable of asking questions, but they’ll need the pitches to be more helpful than is generally the case.
That, of course, could play into England’s hands, especially if they opt for the three-pronged seam attack that we are all expecting.
England: Sibley, Crawley, Bairstow, Root (c), Lawrence, Buttler (wk), Curran, Bess, Leach, Broad, Wood
Sri Lanka: Karunaratne (c), Perera, Thirimanne, Mendis, Mathews, Dickwella (wk), Shanaka, Hasranga, Kumara, Fernando, Pradeep
As we’ve already explained in our series preview, it is hard to look past an England win in both games. They are quickly becoming a fearsome outfit in Test cricket and have better players in pretty much all departments than Sri Lanka.
The only potential point of difference is the spin department, with Leach possibly undercooked and Bess inexperienced. Nonetheless, we’re backing both to have a successful series with the undeniable quality of the rest of the squad there to support them.
Let’s start this incredible year of cricket with a win. See you bright and early for the toss!