Big picture

Since the start of 2019, England have won 16 T20 internationals to the eight they have lost. In the same period, Sri Lanka have lost 14, winning just five. England are the top-ranked T20I side, while Sri Lanka are eighth. And while England had been runners-up at the most-recent T20 world event, Sri Lanka are required to qualify for the main draw of the next major tournament. There would, in short, seem to be a gulf between these teams.
Partly this is down to leadership. Eoin Morgan has been England's most successful white-ball captain, and has done the job since 2015. Although Sri Lanka won the World T20 in 2014, they have rifled through leaders in the last five years, with Dinesh Chandimal, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Upul Tharanga, Thisara Perera (none of whom are even in this current squad), and Dasun Shanaka having led. Now they line up behind Kusal Perera, who is the only surviving member of that World T20 champion side.
Although he has not been consistently impressive himself in the past few years, he has a daunting assignment ahead of him now. The back-to-back matches at Cardiff will not only be a stern test of his leadership, but an indication of where Sri Lanka are as a T20 side. A full-strength Sri Lanka side has not played since before the pandemic.
England narrowly lost their last T20I series, going down 3-2 to India, but it's unlikely they begin this series with serious trepidation. This is despite the fact they do not have Jofra Archer (who was their top wicket-taker in India) or Ben Stokes, due to injury. On top of everything else, many of their cricketers have also been primed in the T20 Blast, while Sri Lanka have merely had a couple of low-key intra-squad games. Such is the volatility Sri Lanka bring, they cannot be ruled out altogether. But if they are to make a fist of this series, they will have to spring a series of surprises.

Form guide

(completed matches, most recent first)
England LLWLW
Sri Lanka LWLLL

In the spotlight

Not only was Jos Buttler England's highest run-scorer in the series in India, he also has a spectacular record against Sri Lanka, striking at 158 and averaging 47 in six innings against them. Although his Blast form for Lancashire has been somewhat patchy, he had had an excellent finish to the (curtailed) IPL, where he had hit 124 off 64 in early May. Sri Lanka's inexperienced attack will be especially wary.
Kusal Perera, meanwhile, has a spectacularly poor T20 record against England, striking at 84 and averaging less than 10. He has also not played the format in over a year - his last T20 international having been in March 2020. Although there are several players vying for positions at the top of the order, Perera has said he will either open the batting, or come in at No. 3. This is a captaincy that is yet to really earn its stripes. Runs in this series will immeasurably assist his leadership.

Pitch and conditions

Cardiff is the second lowest-scoring ground in the T20 Blast this season, with an average of 7.59 runs an over, and is one of the few English grounds where spinners are more expensive than seamers in T20. The weather is expected to be good, though the temperatures are forecast to dip to the mid teens.

Team news

Morgan has said that both Bairstow (who is recovering from an ankle injury) and Dawid Malan (who's coming back from an achilles complaint) are both available. Moeen Ali will likely be the allrounder in place of Stokes.
England (possible): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Jonny Bairstow, 5 Eoin Morgan (capt), 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Sam Curran, 8 David Willey/Chris Woakes, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Mark Wood
Avishka Fernando's return (he had been left out of the two previous series due to poor fitness) will strengthen the top three. There is some competition for middle-order spots, however, with Dhananjaya de Silva, Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis, and Oshada Fernando all vying for places.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Avishka Fernando, 3 Kusal Perera (capt/wk), 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Oshada Fernando, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Dasun Shanaka, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Isuru Udana, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Nuwan Pradeep

Stats and trivia

  • England have won each of the six T20 internationals played at Sophia Gardens.
  • Sri Lanka have lost their last three T20 internationals against England. Their last victory was back in 2014, at The Oval.
  • Dawid Malan has 1003 T20 international runs. He was the fastest to 1000 runs, making the milestone in 24 innings to beat Babar Azam, who got their in 26 innings.
  • Quotes

    "I think Moeen was unlucky not to play in India. The pitches that we played on didn't turn at all in that series so actually a second spinner wasn't the best option. We have to look at the balance of the side but you have to be a very, very good side to go in with only five bowlers and no allrounder."
    England captain Eoin Morgan suggests Moeen will take Stokes' place in the XI
    "It's important to give our top-order batters consistent places in the team, so they know how to score runs in those positions."
    Sri Lanka captain Kusal Perera suggests his team's top order could do with some faith through the series.

    Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf