Sri Lanka search for bowling heroes
After an overseas season when nothing went right, England will have high expectations from their home series, where Sri Lanka and India beckon over the next three months. In Australia, England were pummeled by pace - especially by Mitchell Johnson - but playing the Sri Lankan and Indian bowlers in home conditions should be easier on their batsmen: neither opposition possesses the kind of bowlers, on paper at least, who should give Alastair Cook and Co sleepless nights.
However, Sri Lanka, their first opponents this summer, will have plenty of motivation to pull off a surprise, given the timing and manner of Paul Farbrace's move from Sri Lanka's coach to England's assistant coach. In 13 Tests in England, Sri Lanka have only won two, and both were orchestrated by Muttiah Muralitharan - he had figures of 27 for 352 in those two wins, and was Man of the Match in both games. Since his retirement, Sri Lanka have won one out of nine Tests in Australia, England or South Africa - in Durban in 2011, when Rangana Herath took 9 for 128. Most recently, though, they lost 3-0 in Australia in 2012-13.
Also, this series will almost surely be the last time Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene will play Tests in England. They've been Sri Lanka's best batsmen by a considerable margin over the last several years, but both have unfinished business in England: they've never been part of a team that has won a Test series here (or even in Australia or South Africa). In fact, apart from victory in the one-off Test in England in 1998, Sri Lanka have never won a Test series in these three countries; against an England team that's trying to rebuild, this series represents an opportunity to correct that stat.
|Tests||Eng won||SL won||Drawn|
|In Eng since 2000||9||4||1||4|
England's home strength
England, for their part, have generally been ordinary on tours recently - they have a 9-13 win-loss record overseas since the beginning of 2009 - but during the same period they've been superb at home, winning 21 and losing only four. They've had two great overseas results during this period, winning in Australia and India, but at home their only blip in ten series during this time was in 2012, when South Africa beat them 2-0.
As the table below suggests, both the batting and the bowling have suffered for England on tours, but the bowling has suffered more, with the average going up from 28.98 to 35.07. The batting average has dropped from 39.66 to 35.10, though the century count hasn't changed much.
|Tests||W/ L||Bat ave||Bowl ave||100s|
Cook and Ian Bell both had poor series in Australia - Bell averaged 26.11 and Cook 24.60 - but both will fancy getting their form back in the home season. Over the last five seasons, Bell averages 62.38 in home Tests; when playing away from home, his average drops to 38.78. Cook averages 41.09 at home over the last five years, which is lesser than his away average of 57.27, but he has been prolific against Sri Lanka at home, scoring 565 runs in six Tests at an average of more than 70. Bell has been even better, making at least a half-century in each of his four home innings against Sri Lanka; his lowest is 52.
|at home, since 2009||v SL at home|
|Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s|
|Ian Bell||25||2121||62.38||8/ 11||3||331||331.00||2/ 2|
|Alastair Cook||33||2260||41.09||7/ 7||6||565||70.62||2/ 3|
|Matt Prior||33||1596||38.92||3/ 10||3||130||43.33||1/ 0|
|Stuart Broad||30||1099||29.70||1/ 6||3||57||19.00||0/ 1|
|Joe Root||8||373||28.69||0/ 2||-||-||-||-|
Among the England bowlers in the current squad, James Anderson and Stuart Broad are the regulars, and the ones who'll be expected to do most of the damage. Both have remarkably similar home records in the last five years - exactly the same number of wickets, five-fors and ten-wicket hauls, while the averages are within 0.5 of each other. Both have also done very well at Lord's, the venue for the first Test: Anderson has 61 wickets at 26.09, while Broad's 48 wickets have come at an average of 27.93.
|in Eng since 2009||v SL in Eng|
|Tests||Wickets||Average||5WI/ 10WM||Tests||Wickets||Average||5WI/ 10WM|
|James Anderson||31||132||25.83||8/ 2||2||7||29.00||0/ 0|
|Stuart Broad||30||132||25.34||8/ 2||3||8||48.75||0/ 0|
Sanga and Mahela's last chance
As mentioned earlier, this will almost certainly be the last Test series for Sangakkara and Jayawardene in England, and apart from wanting to end on the winning side, they'll also want to improve their own Test stats here. Neither averages 35 in England, which is well below their career averages. Jayawardene has an overall average of almost 60 against England, but that's because of an unbelievable home run against them - an average of 89 from 11 Tests, with six centuries and as many fifties. In England, he has two centuries from ten Tests.
Sangakkara hasn't done so well against them at home either - averaging 39.22 - and in England he only has one hundred from nine Tests. Both have contrasting records at Lord's, though: Jayawardene has 375 runs from six innings at an average of 75, with two centuries; Sangakkara has 140 runs from six innings, with a highest score of 65.
|Batsman||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Ave v Eng|
|Mahela Jayawardene||10||614||34.11||2/ 2||59.94|
|Kumar Sangakkara||9||520||30.58||1/ 2||35.02|
|Prasanna Jayawardene||3||216||54.00||1/ 0||41.72|
|Mahela Jayawardene||3||375||75.00||2/ 1|
|Kumar Sangakkara||3||140||28.00||0/ 1|
Taking 20 wickets will be a challenge for Sri Lanka, though, given that their seamers have consistently struggled in England: they've averaged more than 55 runs per wicket in each of their last three series, and their 54 wickets in nine Tests since 2000 have cost 61 runs each; apart from Bangladesh, no other seam attack has fared so badly in England during this period. If the weather stays fine, Rangana Herath could be key to Sri Lanka's hopes: he has taken 25 in five Tests against England at an average of 25.60, though his average in England is almost 50.
The Lord's factor
Sri Lanka haven't been beaten in any of their last three Tests at Lord's, though they've lost two out of six here overall. Their last Test defeat at Lord's was in 1991, after which they've drawn in 2002, 2006, 2011. In each of those Tests, they've scored at least 475 in one of their innings, which has allowed them to draw games despite huge totals by England. England, on the other hand, have an 8-1 win-loss record in their last ten Tests at Lord's, since 2009. The only defeat was against South Africa in 2012, after which they defeated New Zealand and Australia convincingly last year. Plenty has happened since that last Lord's win, though, and how they fare here against Sri Lanka over the next five days could well set the tone for the rest of the summer.
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats