The key battles
Andrew Strauss v Chanaka Welegedara
The England captain needs a strong series with the bat. He has not scored a Test hundred since Brisbane in November 2010, but if he is to get one on this trip the challenge will not just come from the spinners. Chanaka Welegedara removed Strauss in three innings out of four during the series in England last year, restarting the debate on whether technical issues existed against left-arm quicks. Zaheer Khan's injury during the India series that followed removed an enticing battle. Opening batsmen falling to opening bowlers should not come as a surprise, but Sri Lanka will see it as an opportunity to make an early opening in conditions where new-ball wickets are so crucial.
Kevin Pietersen v Graham Ford
This is a pairing between one person who will be in the middle and another who will be in the dressing room. Graham Ford is now the Sri Lanka coach but has been a huge figure in Pietersen's career, a mentor he has sought out during times of struggle. Following a poor 2010 season, Pietersen went to South Africa and worked with Ford prior to the 2011 Ashes, during which he proceeded to score a double-hundred in Adelaide. Now Ford is in charge of the opposition and will have the inside track. Pietersen, for his part, is brimming with confidence. Will the pupil or the teacher come out on top?
Graeme Swann v Mahela Jayawardene
To call Graeme Swann's current situation a slump in form shows what high expectations there are of him - even being below his best, he took 13 wickets at 25.07 against Pakistan. He remains England's No. 1 spinner, though, his hold on that title is now a little more tenuous. It hasn't been a particularly easy start in Sri Lanka for him, either, firstly with the strong comments about an opposition batsman not walking, then match-figures of 1 for 132 against the Sri Lanka Cricket Development XI. Things will not get any easier. Swann is about to bowl against one of the finest players of spin around. Mahela Jayawardene put huge dents in Monty Panesar's confidence four years ago, and his nimble footwork allied to deft touch will pose Swann a huge challenge.
England v the heat
It may be clichéd to talk about England cricketers coping in hot conditions - as much as commenting on an overseas player wearing a few sweaters in May at Lord's - but the temperature will play a key role for them in this series. It is why there is such debate about four bowlers verses five. Do such stifling conditions demand an extra option? And the heat does not just take a physical toll ... England's players have already lost their cool once in the middle when they were not impressed by an umpiring decision and it's easy to crack.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo