Forty-year-old spinner Herath will retire after the series opener in Galle, already the 10th most prolific wicket-taker in the history of the game and with a chance to jump to seventh by the end of the week.
The sense of occasion is already building – with banners bearing his face lining the lamp posts on the drive to the stadium and celebratory posters hanging from the main gates.
England have their own recent experience of paying tribute to an exiting great, record run-scorer Cook bowling out at the Oval in September with an emotional century in his last innings and a handsome 118-run victory over India to toast.
Root’s job now is to make Herath’s 93rd and final Test a frustrating one.
“It would be nice if that was the case,” he said.
“We’re very aware of the skills he has and how he’ll try to get us out but it is about us playing the situation and the surface and not trying to look too much at it being his last Test.
“There will be a lot of noise around him and it being his last game, rightly so, but we’ve got to play 11 Sri Lankan players and the respect has to be there for the whole team.
“He has had a wonderful career for Sri Lanka and done some very special things for them over a long period of time.
“It’s no coincidence he has that amount of wickets. He’s a proven performer who is very good at exploiting surfaces, especially this one. So we’re going to have to play him well.
“But we’ve done our homework and we feel we’re in a good place.”
Regardless of the outcome, England have made plans to mark Herath’s contribution to the game, as the last active player to have made his debut in the 1990s.
“We would like to do something for him and make sure he gets the respect he deserves for a fantastic career over 19 years,” added Root.
The game not only represents a final chapter in Sri Lankan cricket, but a first for England as they line up for a Test match without Cook in their line-up for the first time in 12 years and 159 outings.
Rory Burns will debut in his place alongside Keaton Jennings and Root hopes the new opening pair can begin to write their own stories this winter.
“It will be my first Test match without playing with Alastair,” said Root.
“It’s a big loss in terms of experience and everything he brings to the squad and the team and of course we miss him.
“But it’s a great opportunity for someone else to make that spot their own, stand up and do something special for England.”
England’s Test preparations have been far from satisfactory – with one of their four days of warm-up action washed out and damp conditions for each of the training sessions in Galle.
Root, though, has left no room for complaining.
“There’s no real excuse for going into tomorrow undercooked. We’ve done some really good stuff up until now and that’ll have to be enough,” he said.
“We’ve got to be adaptable, it’s part and parcel of Test cricket and playing here this time of year.”
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Here Press Association Sport looks at five discussion points on the eve of the match.
LIFE AFTER CHEF
Less than two months after Alastair Cook brought down the curtain on his Test career in grand fashion with a farewell century at the Oval, England take the field without him for the first time in 12 years. There will be young fans who have never seen a Test without him facing the new ball or standing watch in the slips but now it is over to Keaton Jennings and debutant Rory Burns to begin anew. Marcus Trescothick called on the pair to “forge their own path” and these are the first steps on that journey.
ALL HAIL HERATH
He may not have the chiselled good looks of an A-list star but Rangana Herath is a true great of Test cricket. His impending retirement, after one more visit to his favourite hunting ground, sees the departure of the most prolific left-arm spinner in history. The entire city of Galle is festooned with his likeness – with posters lining the streets, banners hung around the ground, and both sides planning to mark his 19-year career during the match. He needs one more wicket to reach 100 at the ground, and would become the third player in history to manage that at a single venue. Expect him to get plenty more than that.
NO MORE “SITTING DUCKS”
Several England players have spoken about the importance of playing positively against spin in this series and not becoming creasebound while waiting for the inevitable. Jack Leach, a spinner himself, arguably put it best when he said the visiting batsman would not be “sitting ducks”. Players’ own options will be different – coming down the track, sweeping, reverse-sweeping or paddling – but all of the main run-scorers will be expected to have a counter-punch to the home side’s twirlers.
SEEKING AN OVERDUE WIN
Remarkably, England have not won a Test on the road since they overturned Bangladesh in Chittagong in October 2016. Since then they have lost 10 and drawn three, with several truly troubling margins of defeat. The nature of modern touring schedules mean away wins are becoming harder and harder but England’s is a poor return on the talent and resources available to them. Captain Joe Root has vowed to make imaginative decisions to buck the trend and the success or failure of those gambles could be the difference.
After the limited-overs leg of the tour was blighted by thunderstorms – not entirely unforeseeable when the matches were scheduled for the back end of the monsoon season – a few clear sessions of uninterrupted cricket are the order of the day. It may be a forlorn hope though. Forecasts anticipate a heavy chance of rain on each of the five days meaning delays and stop-start cricket could be on the agenda. It might not please the thousands of travelling fans who have made the journey but if the covers hold in moisture and stop the pitch breaking up, it could play into English hands.
A report described Cricket Australia’s “arrogant” and “controlling” culture as contributory factors for the ball-tampering incident in the Test series against South Africa earlier this year.
Chairman David Peever resigned three days after the report’s release and – though Taylor was linked as a potential successor – the former Australia captain has decided to end his 13-year tenure on the board.
He said: “As Australian cricket faces up to its latest challenge, the time has therefore arrived for me to step back.
“I reached this decision following a high degree of soul searching and, importantly, having the game’s best interests clearly in mind.”