England’s World Cup preparations will take a different turn in Sri Lanka, with turn being the operative word.
The belting, pacey wickets Eoin Morgan’s men often encounter at home are likely to be replaced by slow, spin-friendly surfaces in the subcontinent, pitches that have, in the past, proved England’s undoing.
The most notable example of that was their defeat to Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final, when they struggled to 211 on a turgid track in the face of wily seam and spin bowling.
Frailties against spin also arose for England in the opening ODI at home to India in July – the same venue where they had plundered a world record 483 against Australia a month earlier – when Kuldeep Yadav picked up a six-for as the hosts were skittled for 268.
England, though, went on to win that three-match series against India 2-1, with Joe Root negating Kuldeep by playing back in his crease and going on to score match-winning centuries as Morgan’s charges triumphed in games that were not run-fests.
A repeat in Sri Lanka – the first of five ODIs is live on Sky Sports Cricket on Wednesday, October 10 – would show England are now a side for all surfaces and perhaps make them even bigger favourites for next summer’s World Cup, a tournament, of course, which they are yet to win.
A quick glance at the scores from Sri Lanka’s previous ODI assignment at home, a 3-2 loss to South Africa in August, suggests England will have to graft hard for runs – the top total across the five games was 363, with 300 breached on just one other occasion.
Sri Lanka off-break bowler Akila Dananjaya topped the wicket charts, bagging 14 at 17.85, and England could go in with three twirlers on tour with Liam Dawson included in the squad alongside mainstays Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali. It could be trial by spin for both teams.
England were all in a spin on their previous white-ball excursion to Sri Lanka in late 2014, a real low point for the side. The visitors were routed 5-2 in a seven-match series and Alastair Cook axed as captain ahead of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Worse was to come in the form of a group-stage exit at the 50-over showpiece but with the next one now under a year away, it is England, ranked No1 in the format and on a run of eight bilateral ODI series wins on the spin, who look in significantly better shape than Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka, in truth, look in disarray – they have won just four of 16 ODI series since they humbled England four years ago, beating only Ireland, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Windies in that time.
The side lost 12 ODIs in a row in 2017 after being beaten multiple times by Zimbabwe, India and Pakistan, while the recently-concluded Asia Cup in the UAE represented a new nadir as they were shot out for 124 and 158 by Bangladesh and Afghanistan respectively to finish bottom of their group. (Courtesy Sky Sports)