Cardiff: This series is being billed as the starter before the main course of England's season. India are the major drawcard of the summer, but Sri Lanka's visit promises much interest and intrigue.
It pits a home side wanting to build on one of their finest triumphs in Australia against a visiting side trying to rebuild under a new captain and coach amid more political rumblings in Sri Lankan cricket.
A lot has happened since England celebrated in Sydney and even since Sri Lanka finished second in the World Cup. The hosts now have three captains for starters, but nine of the team that played in Sydney are set to line-up in this Test. Andrew Strauss has been very keen to stress how the Ashes success was just a stepping stone, albeit an historic one, in England's quest to be No. 1 in the world. That aim could be achieved by the end of the summer if they beat both Sri Lanka and India but it won't be an easy task.
Sri Lanka come here as significant underdogs, largely due to the loss of three match-winning bowlers in Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga. Yet England will underestimate them at their peril. They showed their fighting qualities with an impressive victory against the Lions after being forced to follow-on as Tillakaratne Dilshan, the new captain, led the way with 117 at better than a run-a-ball. Much will rest on the tone Dilshan sets as a captain and batsman.
However, with Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena in the ranks runs shouldn't be in short supply and then it will be down to a new-look bowling attack. The loss of Nuwan Pradeep is a significant blow and they can't afford Dilhara Fernando to go lame as well. It's impossible to replace Murali, but in Rangana Herath they have a steady left-arm spinner who will no doubt target Kevin Pietersen.
Although Sri Lanka haven't won a series in England they have surprised the hosts more than once. Most famously there was 1998 at The Oval, but five years ago they also won at Trent Bridge to level the series. A shared contest this time would be a fine achievement for Dilshan and a major let-down for Strauss.
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In the end Eoin Morgan made a case that was too good to ignore. His 193 against the Sri Lankans at Derby secured him a Test place that appeared to have slipped away after six weeks at the IPL. Now he has the chance to make the No. 6 berth his for the foreseeable future. He is the ideal counter-attacking player to have in the middle order; someone who scores at close to a run-a-ball and can shift momentum. However, his biggest challenge will come if (or when) he walks in with England wobbling. Barring his hundred against Pakistan at Trent Bridge last year he was vulnerable against the moving ball. One thing he doesn't lack, though, is confidence and that can carry you a long way.
Tillakaratne Dilshan won't do anything in half measures. He has shown his attacking mindset already on this tour both with the bat and in the field. Much like Virender Sehwag, one session of Dilshan blazing away can set the tone for a Test match. England's bowlers won't be allowed any leeway to find their feet. As a captain he isn't a long-term option, but is determined to do things his way and that will include thinking 'outside of the box'. Against the Lions he brought himself on to bowl with the new ball and made a breakthrough. Don't be surprised to see Herath in action as soon as Pietersen walks to the middle.
The only decision for the home side is the make-up of their pace attack and it seems likely that Steven Finn will miss out. Stuart Broad is fit again after his winter injuries although he looked a little short of rhythm in the County Championship. Morgan replaces Paul Collingwood in the middle order with Ian Bell set to move to No. 5. Pietersen and Jonathan Trott will be needed for some fill-in overs at various stages.
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Eoin Morgan, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Chris Tremlett, 11 James Anderson
Sri Lanka have been hit with injuries to their pace attack. Pradeep is out and there are concerns over Dilhara Fernando, who is set to share the new ball with Chanaka Welegedara. Dilshan confirmed they'd picked six batsmen and five bowlers, a hint that Farveez Maharoof could play while Rangana Herath is the one spinner in their 12.
Sri Lanka (possible) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 2 Tharanga Paranavitana, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardena, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Prasanna Jayawardena (wk), 7 Farveez Maharoof, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Dilhara Fernando, 11 Chanaka Welegedara
Pitch and conditions
Domestic and international pitches are often two very different beasts at Cardiff. Alarms are sometimes raised by the amount of turn for Glamorgan matches, but the groundsman keeps things safe for the internationals. Stuart Law said the pitch "looked a belter" and two years ago Australia piled up 674 for 6. The forecast, however, isn't too promising with showers forecast for the opening day and further rain over the weekend.
Stats and trivia
Stuart Broad is currently sat on 99 Test wickets having collected just two scalps in his two Ashes Tests before injury.
The performance of Sri Lanka's bowlers in England since 2000 is better than only Zimbabwe
Thilan Samaraweera, overall Test average of 54.25, averages just 4.25 in England albeit from just two matches