England look set to be given a trial by spin during their seven-match One Day International tour of Sri Lanka as the hosts have included four spin bowlers, including the recalled Rangana Herath, in their squad of 15.
Veteran Herath has performed well for his country and is a clear threat to England’s chances of victory. He is ranked 16th in the latest ODI bowling rankings but is as high as third in the Test rankings. He will want to return to international cricket with a bang after being rested for the 5-0 defeat to India.
He will be joined in the squad by fellow spin bowler, and another danger man, Ajantha Mendis, as well as off-spinner Dilruwan Perera and leg-spinning all-rounder Jeevan Mendis.
Spin has historically been England’s weak link for some time now, particularly against left-armers, so I expect Herath to be a real challenge for England’s batsmen. I am sure the 36-year old will be relishing the prospect of facing England.
How England perform against the Sri Lankan spin attack will prove vital for their confidence as they move closer to the World Cup in February. However, given the contrasting conditions in the subcontinent compared to Australia I don’t think it will prove catastrophic if they fail to find the winning ingredient at this stage.
They will come across high-class spin bowling in the World Cup but probably in less favourable conditions. Only at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) would I expect any bias towards spin bowling from the pitch in a one day game.
Will England decide to be more positive in their stroke play without being too cavalier or will they adopt the approach of just simply accumulating runs steadily without taking a high risk approach? The key thing is that they do not let the Sri Lankan spin attack dictate to them as this has been their undoing on countless previous occasions. England do have a number of left-handed batsmen in their line-up which should help unsettle the Sri Lankan bowlers line but that will not be enough on its own. They will need to devise some sound tactics that they can test throughout the series.
England have a number of stroke players in their side but they will also need to find the right balance as they will not want to see themselves 80-5 whether chasing or setting a target. That will be the point where Sri Lanka’s spinners will turn the screw in their favour.
England must look to get near 300 each time they bat first as any score below this magical figure is often deemed insufficient in today's modern game and especially when England face the might of the Sri Lankan batting line-up which includes captain Angelo Mathews, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena. To reach a competitive score they must score more freely from spin bowling.
Sri Lanka themselves face a conundrum because they could be tempted to pack their side with spinning options because of England’s frailty in this department but they know that they must blood their young fast bowlers before the World Cup begins. With Lasith Malinga absent through injury Sri Lanka need to trust the likes of Dhammika Prasad and Shaminda Eranga with the new ball and at the death in an innings.
Personally I believe this series is very difficult to predict. However, for both sides it is important that they learn about their approaches to games and about the individuals and their roles within the team. In this respect results are not important but the team who comes out on top in this series will head into the new year with renewed optimism.
England are scheduled to play seven ODIs in Sri Lanka with the first game due to take place on Wednesday in Colombo.
Sri Lanka squad
Angelo Mathews (captain), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kusal Perera, Kumar Sangakkara (wicketkeeper), Mahela Jayawardena, Lahiru Thirimanne, Jeevan Mendis, Thilina Kandamby, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Ajantha Mendis, Shaminda Eranga, Dhammika Prasad, Thisara Perera, Lahiru Gamage.