Photo credit: Gareth Copley-Jones
England are about to embark on a short two-test series in Sri Lanka, and while I can’t stand test series that don’t run for at least 3 tests, we’ll be looking at this as a dress rehearsal for our India tour next winter. You can see our future tours schedule by heading here.
Don’t get me wrong, with the introduction of the World Test Championship, every series is played on its own merits. There are 120 points up for grabs and with India having taken a loss in New Zealand (well a bit of a beating to be honest), England have a chance to close the gap on the table toppers. Regardless of how convoluted the World Test Championship is, I still want England to be in that final at Lords. However, it’s hard to not see this as a dress rehearsal.
Can Dominic Sibley play spin?
This is an interesting conversation piece. Sibley has been superb for England so far, with an average north of 40 after 10 innings. However, the question remains around his ability to play spin, at times he’s struggled with left-arm spin in the championship and he looked unconvincing when facing up against New Zealand’s Mitchell Santner and South Africa’s Maharaj. At the same time, he came out of those two test series with a superb average and with a century to his name, so let's not overreact to this.
The pitches in Sri Lanka will turn a lot more than the ones we saw in New Zealand and South Africa, and he’ll have to face spin consistently from both ends, something we haven’t really seen so far. Personally I don’t think he’s going to have any issues, he’s an extremely smart player and he’ll adapt his game accordingly. It’s a question that needs answering, and Dom’s got the perfect opportunity to put it to bed in Sri Lanka.
Can Joe Root convert?
Joe Root is enjoying a purple patch for his captaincy after an away series victory in South Africa, now the attention will turn to his batting. He had that phenomenal knock of 226 against New Zealand, but questions still remain about his inability to convert his starts into tons. Outside of his 226, he had knocks of 2,11,29,48,35,61,27,59 and 58. Over his career, Root has made 48 fifties and only 17 hundreds. That’s a 35% conversion rate, which is significantly lower than his peers at the top of the game.
Sri Lanka is a difficult place to get yourself in, however, if you stay consistent and disciplined, there’s a score to be had. I’m backing Root to put a hundred up on the board in one of his innings.
Can Matty Parkinson take wickets in red-ball cricket?
It was a great sign for England that Parkinson was able to take wickets in the first warm-up game. Parkinson is still young and the Lancashire spinner has a really bright future ahead of him. However, people question whether he can take wickets consistently in red-ball cricket.
Personally I think this is a little unfair. As Parkinson recently alluded to, he’s a young guy and spinners tend to develop a little later than seamers. He does bowl slower than most (around 45mph) and he doesn’t possess the variations of an Adil Rashid, but he does give it a good rip and he can land the ball on a good line and length consistently. The lack of variations don’t overly concern me in test cricket, but even he’s said he may need to work on delivering the ball with a little more pace.
It'll be interesting to see two things in Sri Lanka. What his pace is like? Does he take wickets? If he managed to take wickets, I don’t care if he’s bowling 20mph.
Is Joe Denly in the last chance saloon?
Last year we had the opening question dominate our thoughts, now we have the #3 position. It may be that the Rory Burns footballing incident is a happy accident. There is no question that when Burns returns, he’ll return to the top of the line-up, so if Sibley and Crawley continue to make runs, there may be a natural transformation in Crawley moving down to #3 to accommodate Burns and Sibley at the top.
Joe Denly has done a fine job for England, filling a difficult position when there was nobody else. He’s had his moments and I think everyone was pulling for him when he was closing in on his century. However he is averaging just 30 in test cricket, which isn’t horrible, but it’s not what you want from your #3 either.
He got a few starts in South Africa in making 38,31,27 and 25, but you need to push on at that #3 position. For me, batting for 100 balls isn’t quite enough from your first drop player. Especially when you have the likes of Sam Hain and Dan Lawrence waiting in the wings. You feel that Denly needs a statement score to establish his position for the English summer.
Who keeps the gloves?
This is going to be the most popular subject of conversation. Chris Silverwood has already confirmed that Jos Buttler will start with the gloves in Galle, to some that was a mistake. It’s obvious that the English management want Jos to succeed, we all want him to succeed, but wanting something doesn’t make it so.
Sri Lankan pitches can absolutely rag, and you want to ensure you’re not giving any free runs away. Ben Foakes is the better keeper, there is little doubt about that. When you combine that fact with Foakes test average (all be it a small sample size) and Buttler’s struggles in test cricket over the last 18 months, it’s hard to really fathom this.
The positive is that Jos plays spin well and he’s already scored runs in the warm-up. I’d love a way to get both in the line-up, some have suggested putting Jos at #3 and allowing Foakes to keep. Jos could certainly do a job at #3 In Sri Lanka, but I think that’s a short-term fix as he’d struggle there in England through the summer with his aggressive approach.