No room for error in short series
Match factsMarch 26-30, Galle
Start time 10.00am (0430GMT)
This is an odd tour - two Tests and nothing else - but one with great significance for both sides. It is Mahela Jayawardene's first Test series since returning to the captaincy and Sri Lanka are still searching for their first series win since Muttiah Muralitharan's retirement. England, meanwhile, are coming off a 3-0 whitewash by Pakistan in the UAE, which raised questions about their No. 1 ranking.
The brief nature of the series adds a certain lottery factor to the outcome, particularly given the recent history of Galle, the venue for the opening match. The previous Test at this ground, which Australia won by 125 runs, led to a warning over the pitch from the ICC. It remains to be seen what type of surface is produced this time, and whether the groundsman plays it safe (two Tests ago Chris Gayle slammed a triple hundred here), but one crazy session - as Nathan Lyon and Shane Watson produced last September - could be all that is needed to take the series.
Significant questions remain about England's batting on the subcontinent and, with a tour to India to come at the end of the year, they need to show that lessons have been absorbed from what happened against Pakistan. There is less mystery about Sri Lanka's attack but this England line-up are not in a position to take anyone lightly.
Neither, though, are Sri Lanka's batsmen likely to find it easy. While the reputation of England's batting slumped in the UAE that of the bowlers soared. James Anderson and Stuart Broad became a two-man pace attack with Monty Panesar making a resurgent comeback. When a slightly below-par Graeme Swann is the main concern for England, it's a sign of the strength on offer. And Steven Finn is unlikely to play.
The fact that the strongest element of either team - England's bowling and Sri Lanka's batting - will face-off against each other suggests this should be a tight contest.
Form guideSri Lanka LWLDL (most recent first)
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Tillakaratne Dilshan was apparently treated pretty harshly as Sri Lanka captain but being freed of the burden was not the worst outcome for such an explosive player. There were signs in the one-day series against Australia that he was getting back to being that expressive, domineering batsman that can tear attacks apart. This series will give him a chance to translate that to Test cricket, although he will need to be at his best against England's strong new-ball attack. Don't rule out his bowling having an impact, either.
Monty Panesar flourished at the beginning of his second coming as an international cricketer with 14 wickets in two Tests against Pakistan. Now, all of a sudden, he has to deal with the expectation of success again. When England were last in Sri Lanka it marked the start of Panesar's problems in Test cricket, as he failed to have the impact needed from him. Now he is back as a wiser, sharper cricketer, and will be aiming to make it very difficult for the selectors to drop him.
Angelo Mathews was ruled out of the Test having initially been named in the squad, but Sri Lanka have batting cover available. Dinesh Chandimal will slot in at No. 6 and hand the wicketkeeping gloves back to Prasanna Jayawardene, who has recovered from hernia surgery. Mahela Jayawardene also confirmed that Lahiru Thirimanne will continue to open the batting, while it's a choice between Suranga Lakmal and Dhammika Prasad for the second seamer.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Lahiru Thirimanne, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Dinesh Chandimal, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Suraj Randiv, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Suranga Lakmal/Dhammika Prasad, 11 Chanaka Welegedera
Andrew Strauss said Stuart Broad was fully fit but the question of having enough bowling options was still being pondered. Samit Patel remains an option but it would be bad luck on Ravi Bopara who's side strain couldn't have come at a worse time.
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Ravi Bopara, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar
Stats and trivia
- There have been three Tests between these two teams at Galle, and the hosts have dominated them all. They won by an innings and 28 runs in 2001, where a wicket away from victory in 2003 and would have won in 2007 except for the rain.
- The one current England player with fond memories of the ground is Alastair Cook, who scored 118 in 2007. Ravi Bopara, in the same match, had bagged a pair that stalled his Test career.
- Chanaka Welegedara, who will take the new-ball for Sri Lanka, made his Test debut in the correspondent fixture.
"The history of the wicket is that it tends to deteriorate as the match goes on, but I expect it to be a pretty good Test wicket. You are looking for a good balance to your side to give you the best chance of taking 20 wickets."
Andrew Strauss doesn't expect another Galle minefield
"We have about six guys, who are genuine Test players, coming in to the squad. They have been training hard, and for the rest of the boys who have been touring, it's a good challenge switching back to the longer version."
Mahela Jayawardene is not concerned about switching back to the longer format
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo