England vs Sri Lanka 1st T20I Preview: Couple of spots still up for grabs as England fine-tune preparation for T20 World Cup
Both England and Sri Lanka have a great opportunity to define the role of individuals, with the T20 World Cup in sight.
Golden opportunity for Joe Root
Many of England's top-billed cricketers return to action with the three-match T20I series against Sri Lanka in Cardiff. The most notable inclusion is Test captain Joe Root who last represented England in a T20 in May 2019 at the same venue. He is likely to get a game in the absence of Dawid Malan and possibly Jonny Bairstow.
With Malan's returns on the decline over the last few matches, if Root can do well in this series and hopefully against Pakistan, he will be a shoe-in for the upcoming T20 World Cup.
England reeling from injuries
England continue to miss the services of Jofra Archer (right elbow), Saqib Mahmood (abdominal) and Reece Topley (side strain) due to injury. Chris Jordan and Dawid Malan have also been ruled out of the series.
Ben Stokes recently returned to competitive cricket for the first time after injuring his finger in the IPL when he took the field for Durham in the T20 Blast and is expected to be fit in time for the Pakistan T20 series.
Meanwhile, Jonny Bairstow, who suffered an ankle injury during Yorkshire's T20 blast fixture against Worcestershire in which he struck a sensational century, has been included in the squad after being cleared in the scans. However, he is unlikely to make it to the playing XI in the 1st T20I. Despite injury, Bairstow sits atop the Blast run-scoring charts with 295 runs at a strike rate of 175. He has struck 26 fours and 18 sixes.
This might open the door for Liam Livingstone who has been in brilliant form in the ongoing T20 blast. Livingstone is the top run-scorer in the Blast for Lancashire with 254 runs at a strike rate of 141. He has struck 23 fours and 10 sixes.
In the absence of Olly Stone, who has suffered his third stress fracture in as many years and Chris Jordan, Sussex fast bowler George Garton has been included in the England squad and will compete with David Willey for a spot in the playing XI. Garton has been the best bowler for Sussex Sharks and has picked up 8 wickets while bowling at an average of 8.37 and an economy rate of 5.15.
Onus on Wood, Rashid
England last played India in a five-match T20I series which they lost 2-3 despite putting in some excellent performances. Jos Buttler was England's top scorer in the series with 172 runs at an average of 43 and a strike rate of 147.01. Jason Roy also made 144 runs.
On the bowling front, the recuperating Jofra Archer was England's main man. In his absence Mark Wood, who picked up 5 wickets from 4 matches at 25.280 and Adil Rashid, who took 4 wickets from 5 matches at 37, will be England leading bowlers.
Kusal Perera, Hasaranga & Chameera Sri Lanka's in-form players
Sri Lanka last played international cricket in Bangladesh in the form of a three-match ODI series. Kusal Perera was that top run scorer in the series that Sri Lanka lost by 2-1, scoring 164 and from 3 matches at an average of 54.67 and strike rate of 87.70. Wanindu Hasaranga also scored some crucial lower middle order runs.
Their star with the ball was Dushmantha Chameera who picked up 9 wickets from three matches, including a 5-wicket haul in the last ODI. Lakshan Sandakan also picked up four wickets.
High expectations from Pradeep, Fernando
Sri Lanka have two big players coming into the squad. Nuwan Pradeep will bolster the team's pace attack and will partner Dushmantha Chameera.
Avishka Fernando is likely to slot in at the top of the order along with Kusal Perera. Fernando had failed to clear the fitness test in the last two series but has made the team for the England tour.
Here's a look at the probable playing XIs:
Sri Lanka - Kusal Perera (c), Avishka Fernando, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dasun Shanaka, Nuwan Pradeep, Lakshan Sandakan, Dushmantha Chameera
England - Jason Roy, Jos Buttler (wk), Joe Root, Liam Livingstone, Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, George Garton/David Willey, Adil Rashid, Mark Wood
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