After watching a lot of T20 and ODI cricket recently, I'm looking forward to getting back to some red-ball viewing. England's tour of Sri Lanka is just around the corner and we're here with a quick preview.
First of all, let's take a look at the schedule. There will be two official tests, with both counting towards the World Test Championship rankings. England currently finds themselves sitting 4th in the rankings, all be it having played a series less than Australia (2nd) and New Zealand (3) and two series less than India (1st).
With 60 championship points up for grabs in each test, England will be looking to add 120 to their total come the end of March.
England's Tour Schedule
March 7-9 - Tour match v SLC Board President's XI, Katunayake, CMCG March 12-15 - Tour match v SLC Board President's XI, Colombo, P Sara Oval March 19-23 - 1st Test v Sri Lanka - Galle, Galle International Stadium March 27-31 - 2nd Test v Sri Lanka - Colombo, R. Premadasa Stadium
Home of Spin
The last time England toured Sri Lanka in 2018-19, they returned home with a surprising 3-0 whitewash victory. The pitches that were prepared in 2018 were absolute stinkers, with the ball turning sideways. However, It was the English spinning trio of Jack Leach, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid that took full advantage.
Jack Leach finished the tour with 18 wickets, Moeen 18 and Rashid 12. Although England will need to do without the services of Moeen and Rashid this time around, with Somerset spinner Dom Bess and Lancashire turner Matty Parkinson taking their place.
Dom Bess's confidence will be high having got his test career back on track in South Africa with some impressive numbers and a 5/51 performance. Even if Sri Lanka choose to prepare some faster pitches, they'll be more on offer for Bess and Parkinson, and both will be hoping to bag a few wickets.
Back in 2018, Ben Foakes was called up to the England squad for Sri Lanka following the injury to Jonny Bairstow. Fast-forward a couple of weeks and he'd finished the tour as the man of the series, scored 277 runs (more than anyone) and averaged 69.25, however it seems as though England will sticking with Jos Buttler for the opening game.
Ben Foakes is the much better keeper, and in the sub-continent, with turning pitches you need your best keeper on the field. I'm not saying that Jos is a bad keeper, but Foakes takes stumping chances 9.5/10, whereas Jos will take them 8/10. May not sound like a huge difference, but it can be the difference between getting the big wicket or being out in the field in sapping heat for an extra hour or two.
Last time we headed to Sri Lanka, Jos was playing as a batsman and he swept and reverse swept his way to a very good tour. He finished as the 3rd leading run-scorer with 250 runs at an average of 41.66. He adapted to the pitch and his form was extremely impressive. Unfortunately with the development of the England team over the last 18 months, there's no space for Jos as a specialist batsman.
With the emergence of Olly Pope at #6, you can't fit in a wicket-keeper and specialist bat lower down the order without taking away from your bowling, which you don't want to do in Sri Lanka.
It was mildly surprising to see Keaton Jenning's name on the squad list for Sri Lanka, mainly because his performances as a whole for England have been quite poor. However his performances in the sub-continent have been excellent. In 2018 Jennings made an impressive 146* and finished the tour with an average of 46.60. Despite achieving a 25 average across the board for England, his averages in Sri Lanka (46.60) and India (41.75) made him a logical choice. His ability to play spin may come in handy, either on the pitch or as a useful mentor to young openers Dominic Sibley and Zac Crawley.
I find it hard to imagine that England will move on from Sibley and Crawley after a test series victory in South Africa. Sibley in particular looks assured and although he's shown signs of having a weakness against left-arm spin, the only way to improve and learn is to face left-arm spin, which he'll do in Sri Lanka.
If Chris Silverwood did want to get Keaton into the lineup, he may elect to move Crawley down to #3 and remove Denly. Crawley has shown glimpses of being a fine player, but his aggressive shot-selections make him more suited to lower down the order than opening in my opinion. It could be that Silverwood just elects to open with Keaton and Sibley, giving England the best chance to win in Sri Lanka, but probably not developing the player or answering any long-term questions.
Sri Lanka is always a strange place for seamers. Outside the first few overs, the pitch rarely offers anything to get excited about. Seamers need to keep tight lines and they have to generate the pace themselves.
Unfortunately for England, they'll be without their many speedsters in Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, both MIA due to injuries. So they'll need to decide if they'll go with 1 or 2 full-time seamers, along with all-rounder Ben Stokes. Obviously this depends on the pitch and how much turn it's offering, but there may be a chance for Lancashire quick Saqib Mahmood to make his test debut.
Chris Woakes, Stuart Brown, Sam Curran and Saqib Mahmood are all available for selection. I'd love to see Mahmood given a chance with his extra pace.