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.
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