Sri Lanka v England
Thursday 14 January 04:30
TV: live on Sky Sports
Sri Lanka decent at home
Sri Lanka were hammered in South Africa in a two-Test series. But we can ignore those results because their truly abysmal away form is not replicated, as you would expect, in their own conditions.
They lost a toss-dependant series to England 3-0 in 2018 but either side of that South Africa were beaten and they got a 1-1 draw against New Zealand.
Angelo Mathews returns to the middle-order in a major boost for the batting. Dinesh Chandimal is also fit. It means they have a very solid unit capable of frustrating England. Spin pair Dilruwan Perera and Lasith Embuldeniya might not be well-known but by the end of the series they could stalk the English batsmen in their nightmares.
Possible XI Karunaratne, K Perera, Chandimal, Mathews, Thirimanne, Dickwella, Wanindu, Lakmal, D Perera, A Fernando, Embuldeniya
Even before a Covid diagnosis took out Moeen Ali and quarantined Chris Woakes, England were not at full-strength. There is no Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Ollie Pope or Rory Burns.
So they are not sure of their best XI. Trying to decipher the pitch will not have made it any easier. We do know that Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley will open, Jonny Bairstow returns at number three and Dan Lawrence is expected to make his debut at five.
Dom Bess and Jack Leach are certain starters. They could be joined by three seamers or another spinner, possibly Matt Parkinson. Perhaps surprisingly, England are considering leaving out Stuart Broad or James Anderson in favour of Mark Wood or Olly Stone. Sam Curran's handy batting should give him the nod with Woakes watching on.
Possible XI Crawley, Sibley, Bairstow, Root, Lawrence, Buttler, S Curran, Bess, Wood, Anderson, Leach
The pitch, as you would expect, should be a spinner's paradise. Since 2016, spinners have taken twice as many wickets as pacers in Tests at this ground. As the match goes on, it breaks up and turn gets exaggerated. In the last last 16 matches here, 11 have been won by the side batting first. In the 2018 series England won by 211 runs batting first.
England captain Joe Root has said he expects batting to be a struggle. The last seven first-innings scores read: 249-342-287-600-494-281-484. There is rain forecast for the last three days. We're likely to play chap lays starting at under 200.
Side batting first should win
Sri Lanka are 3.259/4, England 2.568/5 and the draw is also 3.259/4. If you think England are a wager before the toss then it's safe to say that this isn't the game for you.
Apart from the heavy toss bias which guarantees a hefty chunk off the price for the team batting first, England have an awful record in the first Test of an away series. They have lost five of their last six. Guess where the odd one out came? Yep, Galle. And they batted first.
If England do win the toss and bat, they should win. But they will probably be odds on. If Sri Lanka win the toss and bat, they should win. But they will probably only be cut to what England are now.
As discussed on Cricket...Only Bettor, England's two best players of spin are Crawley and Lawrence. They get quotes of 7/2 and 5/1 respectively from Sportsbook. Root is a big swerve at 5/2 jolly. Jos Buttler catches the eye at 6s while Sam Curran was a key support to Ben Foakes when he notched a ton to set up England in 2018. Curran is 33s.
For Sri Lanka, Mathews is likely to be all the rage at 4/1 while Chandimal will be well-supported sat 6s. Skipper Karunaratne showed admirable fight against South Africa and is a fair favourite at 11/4.
With the ball, Perera and Embuldeniya are 5/2 and 10/3 respectively for top Sri Lanka bowler. Leach and Bess have been backed in to 9/4 and 11/4 favourites from 4s.
The Sri Lanka stars to watch out for on Cricket...Only Bettor