After the summer of 2020 saw England beat West Indies and draw with Pakistan on home soil, Joe Root now takes his Test troops to Sri Lanka for a two-match series.

It’s the first time England have visited Sri Lanka since an impressive 3-0 series win in November 2018, with the visitors having won seven of the last nine Test matches between the two.

Sri Lanka meanwhile will be looking to bounce back following a disappointing series defeat in South Africa last month.

England’s Root to success amidst new-look batting line-up 

In previous visits to Sri Lanka, England have stocked the batting line-up with their best players of spin – Keaton Jennings was notable recall for the last tour. In this instance, they’ve kept faith their newly emerging top order talents in Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley. Crawley will likely move up to open the batting alongside Sibley, with usual opening partner Rory Burns on paternity leave.

That does of course leave a question to answer at number three, a position Joe Root seems the natural fit for, although he has often remarked about his preference to bat a spot lower at four. This may present an ideal opportunity for the returning Jonny Bairstow, who has been out the Test side for a year. It appears he will bat at three, which is actually where he scored a hundred for England during their last tour of Sri Lanka. He’ll be keen to impress if given the opportunity and is currently 5/6 to score over 26.5 1st Innings runs and 4/1 to be England’s top batsman in the 1st innings.

There’s also questions for England to answer in the middle order. Ben Stokes is rested for this tour, with Moeen Ali, who would likely have batted at seven, also ruled out for the series. This will more than likely mean that Essex’s Dan Lawrence is handed his debut in the side, especially given that he, like Ali can also turn a few off-breaks. His modest first-class average of 38 may draw a few nay-sayers, but his home ground of Chelmsford offers seam and spin for the bowlers and he already shown on a recent Lions tour his ability to score runs overseas.

The key for this patchwork England batting line-up will therefore be the captain Joe Root, who failed to add another Test century to his record during 2020. Despite being known as one of England’s better players of spin, only in Australia and Bangladesh does Root average less than in Sri Lanka, so he will keen to show his ability in this series. England are prone to the odd collapse, so with a potentially long tail to accompany a reasonably new-look batting line-up, Root will play a huge role in any potential England success. He’s currently the 5/2 favourite to be England’s top batsman in the 1st innings, and 5/6 to score over 33.5 1st innings runs.

With Ali’s absence also destabilising the bowling unit somewhat, England may be tempted to play a 3rd spinner alongside Somerset duo Jack Leach and Dom Bess. With Matt Parkinson, Amar Virdi and Mason Crane all in the squad, they certainly have the options, if not the experience. However, with Root, Lawrence and Sibley all able offer some part-time spin options, it’s likely that Sam Curran and Chris Woakes will be used to supplement the batting line-up and give Root plenty of seam options too.

Sri Lanka look to bounce back from South Africa defeat

Having failed to surpass 250 in any of their final three innings in South Africa, the Sri Lankan batsman will be relieved to be back on home soil for this series. Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera both contributed with some runs at the top of the order, but the middle and lower order was exposed by some impressive South African pace bowling.

Dinesh Chandimal also made a score in the first game, before missing the second and will return to the side to take the gloves. He and Karunaratne will be the prize wickets for England, with both averaging above 40 in home conditions. Despite this, Chandimal is without a Test hundred since June 2018, but you can back him to bring his best against the English. He’s currently 5/6 to score over 24.5 1st innings runs and 5/1 to be Sri Lanka’s top 1st innings batsman.

Despite the bowlers also taking a pummelling in South Africa, Vishwa Fernando emerged with perhaps the most credit with his 2nd innings 5/101 in the 2nd Test to go along with three wickets in the first game. England have had plenty of issues with left-armers historically so he might fancy his chances of getting amongst the wickets here too. He’s currently at 4/1 to be Sri Lanka’s top 1st innings bowler.

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