It is going to be an enthralling battle as Sri Lanka host England for a two-match Test series, starting from January 14. The series will be a part of the World Test Championship, though that is hardly likely to matter as Sri Lanka, mathematically, have no chance of reaching the top two, while it seems impossible that England can end in the finals, that is likely to see two of New Zealand, Australia, and India.
The Sri Lankans had gone down 0-3 when England toured them last, in 2018, and have not been in the best of forms of late, winning just 4 of the 14 Tests since that series. They will enter the game on the back of a series whitewash against South Africa but will have the upper hand in their home conditions. Spin is once again expected to dominate, which is how the Lankans can get the better of the English team. Dilruwan Perera, who had scalped 22 wickets in the 2018 series – the highest by any bowler from either side – will once again be the key player, while Lasith Embuldeniya and Wanindu Hasaranga can be the X-factors. The former is tall and gets good bounce off the surface, while the latter has a bowling average of 27.95 in FC cricket to go with a batting average of nearing 42. The team will also be bolstered by the return of Angelo Mathews, Suranga Lakmal, and Dinesh Chandimal, who were recently injured during the tour of the Rainbow Nation.
Their batting, however, remains a worry. On their recent tour, the Lankans managed to cross 215 just once in four innings, though those were vastly different conditions. Over the years, their batsmen have blown hot and cold, but the side can expect a more consistent performance from players such as Dimuth Karunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Perera, Mathews, and Chandimal.
England begin their long tour of the subcontinent – they play India in a four-match series from February – with just one practice match, and might be rusty, having last played international cricket in August. They will also be without the services of Jofra Archer, Rory Burns, and Ben Stokes while Moeen Ali is unavailable for the first Test after testing positive for the coronavirus.
The biggest dilemma for the visiting team would be the choice between Jos Buttler and Ben Foakes as the wicket-keeper of the side. The latter had made his Test debut on the tour to Sri Lanka in 2018 and ended with scores of 107, 37, 19, 65 not out, 13 and 36 not out to end with an average of 69.25. He also latched onto eight catches and effected two stumpings, to end as the Player of the Series. However, Foakes has not played any Test cricket since February 2019 with skipper Joe Root publicly backing Jos Buttler as the gloveman. The latter, however, does not have the greatest record with the bat against spin while his keeping in the turning conditions has been been the best either.
England are also touring with only two recognized openers – Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, who have played a combined 20 Tests. Neither player has been tested in the subcontinent before, which could put immense pressure on Joe Root if the openers struggle. With no Stokes lower down the order to anchor the innings either, the batting could struggle, which heavily tilts the balance in favor of the home team.
When: Thursday, January 14-18, 2021
Where: Galle International Stadium
SL Expected XI: Possible XI: Dimuth Karunaratne (C), Kusal Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya, Suranga Lakmal
ENG Expected XI: Possible XI: Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root (C), Dan Lawrence, Jos Buttler (wk), Sam Curran, Dom Bess, Jack Leach, Mark Wood, James Anderson
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