England in Sri Lanka: a preview

England test cricket is back! We have whetted our appetites with the delicious spectacle of Australia VS India, but now it's time to watch English collapses against mystery spinners, or hopefully not...
12 Jan 2020
Michael Kynaston

England test cricket is back! We have whetted our appetites with the delicious spectacle of Australia VS India, but now it's time to watch English collapses against mystery spinners, or hopefully not...

To kick things off on our new website we have previewed the likely England XI for the first test this Thursday. Enjoy!

1. Dom Sibley

For the first time in a long time, we have healthy competition amongst our openers. Dom Sibley and Rory Burns have both done well, particularly Sibley in the 2020 home summer, but Zak Crawley is an opener by trade and made a huge statement with his 267 against Pakistan. Burns is on paternity leave for this series and in his absence Sibley will know he needs to continue to cement his place at the top of the order, to make sure that if Crawley comes knocking at the top, it won’t be for his spot.

2. Zak Crawley

Zak Crawley’s maiden ton and double ton against Pakistan was simultaneously surprising and understandable. Surprising because it was crazy to see such a young player knock off so many career milestones in the same innings, so early in his career. Understandable because his game looked so complete and well-ordered during the knock, he made batting look easy. He’s clearly got a lot of talent, with his height and his game against the short ball making him a very exciting prospect with an Ashes in Australia to come later in the year. He’s opening in this series rather than batting at 3, as he did last summer, and he will be keen to show he is able to dominate in any spot in that top order.

3. Jonny Bairstow

Here we go. Jonny’s back and he insists he has nothing to prove, recalled to likely bat at no.3 in this series, at the same spot in the order and the same country where he made his last test ton. He’s obviously got a lot of talent, and his domination in limited over cricket is simply incredible, but if he wants to have the test career he clearly believes he deserves and should have, he needs to take this chance as a specialist batsman. Hopefully he has returned with a tighter defence (particularly of his middle stump which too often can be seen cartwheeling away towards greener pastures) and is ready to produce some serious scores. it would be great to have him do so.

4. Joe Root

Joe Root’s england captaincy record is actually pretty good. He has a higher win percentage (54.76) than any England captain of the last twenty years. His home record is brilliant. However, he needs to start scoring some runs. We haven’t seen the batsman that Joe Root can be for some time now and we desperately need him back for what is going to be a very challenging year, culminating in the much discussed goal of reclaiming the ashes. He’s had a decent break and hopefully that will do him some good. A lean series here and the noise about his form, and questions regarding the side’s leader, will only increase.

5. Dan Lawrence

The likely prospect of Dan Lawrence making his debut this series is genuinely exciting. His incredibly supple wrists should suit the pitches in Sri Lanka and the presumably spin-dominated attack that he will be facing. He’s found serious form in the county championship for Essex in the last couple of years and has excelled for the England Lions as well. Chuck in a few handy off-breaks (which are admittedly slightly too rough and ready for him to be considered near a genuine all-rounder) and you have a potentially seriously useful player. Fingers crossed!

6. Jos Buttler (WK)

Summer 2020. His disappointing test record being queried by many (including this writer) and his place in the side coming under increasing external pressure, the 2020 summer felt like a crunch point for Joe Buttler. An insanely talented individual, one of the best limited overs talents on the planet, it felt so frustrating that he wasn’t converting this into test runs. Buttler seemed to finally crack it with a brilliant knock of 75, in a wonderfully unexpected partnership with Chris Woakes, to win the first test against Pakistan and ultimately the series, with Buttler following this up with his second test hundred in the final test of the summer. His form has turned around, his test match game seems clearer and he is secure in the team as vice-captain. The spectre of Ben Foakes as specialist keeper will still loom though on the spin-friendly sub-continent pitches.

7. Chris Woakes

Chris Woakes is a lovely man, with an incredible test bowling and batting record that makes him one of the premier world all-rounders… at home. Away, it’s a markedly different story with a bowling average of 51.68. He has just had a brilliant 2020 summer with bat and ball and this year feels like a great opportunity for him to turn that disappointing away record around. This series in particular feels like an important opportunity for him to put his hand up as senior all-rounder in Stokes’s absence. Safe to say, we’re all rooting for you Chris!

8. Dom Bess

Bess had a solid if unspectacular 2020 summer. He obviously did very well to take his chance in South Africa at the beginning of last year, but against the West Indies and Pakistan he was rarely required, getting few overs such was the dominance of the England seamers. Not a big turner of the ball, but with an attitude that the England camp clearly rate highly and decent potential with the bat, he faces competition from his former Somerset spin-partner Jack Leach for his place. On the expected bunsen burner pitches for this series he will have a far bigger job to do than was asked of him last summer, let’s see what he’s got in his locker.

9. Mark Wood

Mark Wood could play an absolutely crucial role in this series. His extra pace could be key on pitches that may not suit the wily old messrs Anderson and Broad quite as well. He had a frustrating 2020 home summer, watching a lot of cricket from the bio-secure bubble but not getting many opportunities after a disappointing first test against the West Indies. One of those extremely likeable characters you will on to do well, him staying fit and in-form might be very important in England having a good 2021 in test cricket.

10. Stuart Broad

Drop Stuart Broad at your peril. Both from the Test Match XI, and in with his batting getting a new lease of life as lower-order wrecking ball. Broad had a wonderful 2020 home summer and bounced back very well from the (much publicised) pain of being dropped for the first test against the Windies. This writer expects him to start this series, on the back of that golden summer, but he may likely find these pitches slightly less helpful to his well honed arts. On that same basis, it is hard to envision both him and James Anderson playing in the same team this series, but who knows? They obviously have some well earned sway in the dressing room and we’ll hear about it sooner rather than later if either spends too long a spell out of the side.

11. Jack Leach

Jack Leach. Everyone’s favourite pro. The cleaning of the glasses and his role in the Headingley 19 miracle made him a cult legend, and he combines a brilliant first class record with the ball, with a very solid defensive technique at the crease with bat in hand. However, 2020 wasn’t kind to him. He got seriously ill in South Africa at the beginning of the year and had to leave the tour early. He saw his place taken by Dom Bess and then spent the summer in the secure bubble, but not getting on the pitch. Hopefully he can take his chance on these pitches and with his left arm spin dovetail nicely with Bess’s right arm offies. As with Woakes, we’re all behind you jack!