Sri Lanka vs England 1st Test Preview: Undercooked visitors rely on pace to counter Galle's spinning conditions
The England team will have several new faces from the time they registered a historic 3-0 victory on their tour of Sri Lanka in 2018.
England missing key players
Given the new normal in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, England's touring party is already without Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer to allow them to have proper rest and not be marred by bubble fatigue in the lead-up to England's much anticipated tour of India, just after the Sri Lanka series.
England's permanent opener Rory Burns is on paternity leave and will miss the series. To add to their woes, Moeen Ali tested positive for COVID-19 upon landing in Sri Lanka and his quarantine has been extended till Friday, which will surely keep him out of the first test match. The same applies for Chris Woakes as well.
Hence, even before the first ball of the series has been bowled, England have already been depleted.
Hosts favourites despite South Africa pasting
Sri Lanka went through a nightmare during their recent two-match test tour of South Africa where they not only lost by massive margins but also lost several of their players to injury. The good news for them though is that Angelo Mathews, who injured his hamstring in the semi-final of the Lanka Premier League and Dinesh Chandimal, who was injured in South Africa, will be part of Sri Lanka playing XI.
Kusal Mendis, who had a horrid tour of South Africa, is likely to make way for the incoming batsmen while Lahiru Thirimanne is expected to retain his spot.
After an injury to spin bowling all-rounder Dhananjaya de Silva, pace bowling all-rounder Dasun Shanaka, who had some serious workload in South Africa, is expected to keep his spot as well. Suranga Lakmal was not able to take part in the series in South Africa due to a hamstring injury and is also likely to be available.
Sri Lanka are likely to go with three spin bowlers in the seasoned off spinner Dilruwan Perera, slow left-arm orthodox Lasith Embuldeniya and right-arm wrist spinner Wanindu Hasaranga, who is quite handy with the bat as well.
Inclement weather in Galle
Given the logistical difficulties of the series in the times of COVID-19, the last thing cricket needed was the unseasonable rain in Galle. Apart from day one of the match, rain is expected to hold up play for some duration on all the remaining four days.
However, it should not be strong enough to deny a result. As it is, with the turning pitches in Galle, you only need three and a half to four days for a result.
Two spinners, Wood and Broad/Anderson
The rain might come as a blessing for England who were struggling to find a third quality spinner after losing Moeen Ali. Jack Leach and Dom Bess will be England's specialist spinners. Skipper Joe Root is also expected to do a lot of bowling.
The team will go with medium pace bowling all-rounder Sam Curran over Chris Woakes, with the latter lacking match practice after his isolation post landing in the country. Mark Wood will be preferred over Olly Stone.
The England management continues to deal with the perpetual question of who between James Anderson and Stuart Broad will play. Due to a couple of yards of extra pace, Stuart Broad is likely to be more effective. However, the rain (read clouds) will keep James Anderson interested.
Dan Lawrence set to debut
In the absence of Rory Burns, Zak Crawley will partner Dom Sibley at the top of the order while Jonny Bairstow will be slotted at number 3. Joe Root will continue to bat at number 4, with Essex right-hand batsman Dan Lawrence, with a first-class batting average of 37.96, expected to make his debut at number 5. Jos Buttler will take the wicket-keeping gloves ahead of Ben Foakes and will bat at 6.
England had a good run at home during their summer while Sri Lanka suffered a pasting in South Africa recently. However, England's depleted resources and the premium of playing in home conditions for Sri Lanka offset that advantage.
Here's the probable playing XI of both teams:
Sri Lanka - Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Kusal Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya, Suranga Lakmal
England - Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root (c), Dan Lawrence, Jos Buttler (wk), Sam Curran, Dom Bess, Jack Leach, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad/James Anderson
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