Struggling sides seek World Cup form
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Start time 2.30pm (9.00am GMT)
This series, in itself, amounts to very little: just seven more ODIs squeezed into the Sri Lankan rainy season to accommodate a schedule that is already bursting at the seams.
But its proximity to the World Cup provides relevance. Two sides struggling for form and to find settled line-ups have another opportunity to define positions and tactics before departing for Australia and New Zealand. Some players will see their Word Cup hopes enhanced or crushed in the coming weeks. Both sides will hope to have settled on their World Cup team by the end of this series.
Neither side has been in the best of form of late. England have won only one of their past seven multi-match ODI series and that came in the Caribbean when they fielded their T20 side in preparation for the World T20. Sri Lanka suffered the worst ODI whitewash in their history in India, with some eye-wateringly vast defeats. As things stand, Sri Lanka are rated fourth in the ICC's rankings, only a point above fifth-placed England. Sri Lanka won the last ODI series between the countries 3-2, in England in May.
St Lanka have some mitigation for their recent run of modest form. Called to India at short-notice to replace West Indies, their lack of preparation was exposed as they lost 5-0. But the fact that they have recalled Thilina Kandamby - who has not played an ODI since July 2011 - and Jeevan Mendis - who has not played international cricket for more than a year - underlines that they are still searching for missing ingredients.
They are without Sachithra Senanayake, who could be cleared for a return to bowling before the end of the series, and Lasith Malinga, who has undergone ankle surgery that renders him a doubt for the World Cup. But they do possess three batsmen in the top 10 of the ODI rankings - England have nobody in the top 20 - and must be considered favourites for the series.
The wet weather means England have only completed one warm-up game and their middle and lower-order batsmen are without any competitive cricket since September. They are also missing their two senior seamers - James Anderson and Stuart Broad - so will provide opportunities to other seamers in the Powerplays and at the death.
Sri Lanka LLLLL (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Alastair Cook's position will remain the subject of media scrutiny - the selectors have pledged their commitment to him already - until he can discover some fluency at the top of the order. With Moeen Ali, Alex Hales and Ian Bell all vying for a position in the top three, Cook needs runs to justify his on-going selection ahead of them. More importantly, England require either more fluent starts or for Cook to provide more substantial contributions to relive the requirements of the middle-order.
Kusal Perera has scored only four runs in his previous three ODI innings and has not reached 50 in his last 12. But he is likely to win another chance at the top of the order, with Sri Lanka requiring a little more solidity. It may be no easy task in conditions expected to provide a little more help than usual for new-ball bowlers.
With so much rain of late, Sri Lanka expect conditions to help seam bowlers and might be tempted to field another seamer ahead of the spin of Ajantha Mendis. But given England's less-than-glorious record against spin, that remains undecided.
Sri Lanka (Probable) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Kusal Perera, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wkt), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Lahiru Thirimanne, 7 Jeevan Mendis, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Dhammika Prasad, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Shaminda Eranga
Steven Finn is an injury doubt for England with a groin strain. He will undergo a fitness test ahead of the game. Moeen Ali will open the batting for England, with Ian Bell likely to go in at No. 3. That means that an England team crying out for aggression will make do without Alex Hales, the man who hit 116 off 64 balls against Sri Lanka at the World T20 earlier this year.
England (Probable) 1 Moeen Ali, 2 Alastair Cook (capt), 3 Ian Bell, 4 Joe Root, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Jos Buttler (wkt), 7 Ben Stokes, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 James Tredwell, 11 Harry Gurney
Pitch and conditions
The R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo is probably best known as the venue for the highest Test score in history: Sri Lanka's 952 for 6 against India in 1997-98. The winning side has scored in excess of 300 in three of the last four ODIs on the ground and the average run-rate since the start of 2013 has been 5.36 runs per over. The forecast suggests there will be thunderstorms in the afternoon. It would be a surprise if the match escapes unscathed.
Stats and trivia
- 4 , 0, 4, 0: The scores contributed by Tillakaratne Dilshan's opening partner in Sri Lanka's previous four ODIs.
- 29 and 40: The amount of months and ODI innings respectively since Alastair Cook reached 80.
"Moeen Ali is a good player, and he's good against spin. Yesterday at the team meeting we planned a few tactics for him and how to bowl to him in the Powerplays."
Sri Lanka vice captain Lahiru Thirimanne identifies their target man
"Preparations have gone well in terms of training. Obviously it's not ideal our second practice game getting washed out. We can't control the weather and I'm not sure we're going to control it over the next couple of weeks."
England captain Alastair Cook takes up a particularly British topic.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.