After surrendering rather meekly in the limited overs leg, hosts Sri Lanka face England in the final episode of their tour that consists of 3 Tests, beginning this week. After a heavily rain-affected white ball series, England will be looking to halt an away slump that has seen them lose four successive away Test series. Meanwhile, their hosts have not lost a home series to a non-Asian side since 2014; when South Africa claimed a 1-0 series win. The signs all point to a comprehensive victory for the home nation but both sides enter the red ball part of the itinerary in a state of flux.
England come into the series after only recently, waving an emotional goodbye to Alastair Cook, their greatest Test batsman and former captain. The first Test in Galle will be the first time since 2006 that the leading run scorer in English Test history will not be pulling on the three lions. His retirement further exposes the fragility of England’s top order, having struggled to replace Andrew Strauss, they now have the unenviable task of trying to find two openers. Sri Lanka, too, get ready to bid goodbye to their own unassuming superstar. Rangana Herath – Test cricket’s last connection with the 20th century – will play his last game at the same place he played his first, way back in 1999. And while Galle will celebrate the left-armer’s fabulous journey, the future will only look more uncertain for the Sri Lankan team that’s rapidly losing relevance in world cricket. Their biggest match-winner since Muttiah Muralitharan’s retirement will be walking away, and there’s no clear successor to replace him.
It could also be goodbye to another. The Galle international stadium, which has become synonymous with Herath, could also witness its last game, with reports that the authorities prefer a newer, swankier stadium that adheres to heritage laws, elsewhere in the city.
After obtaining Test status, Sri Lanka played their first ever Test on the 17th of February 1982 at the P. Sara Oval against England. It was the 921st match in the history of Test cricket. Bandula Warnapura led the Lions while Keith Fletcher captained the visitors. It was a close tussle as Sri Lanka bowled out England conceding a mere 5 run lead but later England’s experience proved vital as they eventually turned the tables securing a 7 wicket win.
Sri Lanka’s first win against England came in 1993 when they recorded a 5 wicket win at SSC under the captaincy of Arjuna Ranatunga. Alec Stewart led the visitors this time. Since 1982, Sri Lanka have hosted England in 13 Test matches winning five, losing four and drawing four.
Sri Lanka vs England overall Test record Head-to-Head
Played – 31
Sri Lanka – 8
England – 12
Drawn – 11
November 06th, Tuesday – November 10th, Saturday – 1st Test
Galle International Stadium, Galle, 10.00am
November 14th, Wednesday – November 18th, Sunday – 2nd Test
Pallekele International Cricket Stadium, Pallekele, 10.00am
November 23rd, Friday – November 27th, Tuesday – 3rd Test
Sinhalese Sports Club, Colombo, 10.00am
The series comes at a time when the hosts find themselves in one of their worst phases in decades, a side in tatters losing badly across formats. While they had won the last Test Series at home against the South African side they have little else to be proud of in the last few years. England on the other hand come here after an incredible summer where they humbled India 4-1 in the Test Series.
Sri Lanka, led by Dinesh Chandimal, will be looking for redemption against England after losing the one-day series 3-1 and the lone Twenty20 international. They have no new faces in their line-up, but will rely mainly on their mastery over home conditions to overcome England. More importantly, they will try and tap into the outpouring of emotion over the impending retirement of Herath, and push themselves to give the veteran the perfect goodbye. Herath himself will be striving for that, and that should make him doubly dangerous.
While they may lack the household batting names of previous sides with the days of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene now becoming distant in the rearview mirror, a familiar presence in Angelo Mathews returns after missing the white-ball leg of the series. The right-handed batsman always finds a way to score runs against England and the hosts will be hoping that he can contribute again. The run-scoring burden will not fall entirely on the shoulders of Mathews, as a few players managed to score runs in the practice matches. It sounds obvious but amassing large first innings scores has been a key factor in England losing away from home. Kusal Mendis may have had a lean spell of late but the 23-year-old number three is one of the most talented players in the Sri Lankan side and he should flourish on home soil. A strong series could kick-start his career to follow in the footsteps of those high scoring, classical Sri Lankan top-order players who have come before him.
England have been poor travellers – they haven’t won an away Test series since beating South Africa early in 2016, they have lost 10 of their last 13 Tests away from home, and they’ve won just four of their last 30 away. Unlike the limited-overs arena, England’s Test performance in the past two years has been abysmal. A shock defeat in Bangladesh was followed by a successive drubbing at the hands of India (0-4) and Australia (0-4) and a humiliating 58 all out against the Kiwis last winter, and skipper Joe Root will know his side needs to play out of their skins to challenge Sri Lanka in their conditions, who barring the India home series in 2017 (0-3) have been well-nigh unbeatable at home. Australia (3-0) and South Africa were quashed aside with disdain Sri Lanka’s irrepressible spin attack spearheaded by Herath.
Joe Root has promised England will be “bold” against Sri Lanka and is not afraid to experiment with his side, but 24 hours from the start of the series there are many question marks over the makeup of the team. England were able to confirm on Sunday that Jonny Bairstow will miss the Test after failing to recover from an ankle ligament injury he sustained playing football two weeks ago. But the absence of Bairstow throws up another selection dilemma. Do they pick Jos Buttler, who kept in Bairstow’s absence against India in the fourth Test last summer, or hand a debut to Ben Foakes?
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dinesh Chandimal(c), Niroshan Dickwella(w), Angelo Mathews, Roshen Silva, Dilruwan Perera, Akila Dananjaya, Suranga Lakmal, Rangana Herath, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Kaushal Silva, Pushpakumara
England: Keaton Jennings, Rory Burns, Moeen Ali, Joe Root(c), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler(w), Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Ben Foakes, Jack Leach, Joe Denly, Olly Stone, Ollie Pope
Highest team total – 628/8 dec (Sri Lanka at SSC, 2003)
Highest team total (for Eng) – 575/9 dec (at Lord’s, 2014)
Lowest team total – 81 all out (Sri Lanka at SSC, 2001)
Lowest team total (for Eng) – 81 all out (at Galle, 2007)
Most runs – Mahela Jayawardene (2212 runs in 41 innings) (Avg. 58.21)
Most runs for England – Alastair Cook (1290 runs in 28 innings) (Avg. 53.75)
Most runs in Sri Lanka – Mahela Jayawardene (1424 runs in 18 innings) (Avg. 89.00)
Most runs in Sri Lanka (for Eng) – Michael Vaughan (470 runs in 14 innings) (Avg. 33.57)
Highest individual score – Mahela Jayawardene (213* at Galle, 2007), Sanath Jayasuriya (213 at The Oval, 1998)
Highest individual score (for Eng) – Jonathan Trott (203 at Cardiff, 2011)
Highest individual score for England (in SL) – Kevin Pietersen (151 at P.Sara Oval, 2012)
Most wickets – Muttiah Muralitharan (112 wickets in 30 innings) (Avg. 20.06)
Most wickets for England – James Anderson (51 wickets in 20 innings) (Avg. 22.27)
Most wickets in Sri Lanka – Muttiah Muralitharan (64 wickets in 20 innings) (Avg. 20.70)
Most wickets for England (in SL) – Ashley Giles (25 wickets in 10 innings) (Avg. 33.92)
Best bowling – Muttiah Muralitharan (9 for 65 at The Oval, 1998)
Best bowling (for Eng) – Phil DeFreitas (7 for 70 at Lord’s, 1991)
As with most Test series, winning the key moments within sessions will decide who will claim the series. For England, at home, this has been no trouble at all, even against India but away from home they have far too often been on the wrong side of those moments.
Both sides are looking to discover their identity and this series may go a long way to forming the foundations of their futures. It will be a closely fought series, as long as the monsoons that plagued the white-ball games stay away that is.
England would look to continue their domination but the Sri Lankans can be a tough nut to crack.
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