England are a confident lot coming hot on the heels of a 3-1 thrashing of South Africa in a four-Test series and hungry to extend that run further to enhance their chances of playing in the final of the World Test Championships.
England captain Joe Root did not mince any words what his team’s focus was on when he said, “For us heading towards the Test championship if you get that far, is getting close to being no. 1 in the world. It’s a big occasion to play in the final at Lord’s that’s what we are heading for as a team. A lot of processes of making sure having to adapt to different conditions, different surfaces in different parts of the world can make you become a better team long term. That’s a big focus for us trying to get the consistency and how we want to go about playing our cricket.”
England are currently fourth in the standings and a 2-0 win over Sri Lanka will gain them 120 points and propel them into third place behind India and Australia.
But to achieve that England will first have to overcome the oppressive conditions experienced in the country at the moment, which is a far cry from when they last played here when conditions were much cooler with threats of rain and thunderstorms. On that occasion England simply swept the series 3-0.
“Last time we came at a different time of the year it was a lot more wet and lot more thunderstorms around it was the monsoonal season,” said Root. “Its extreme conditions this time around. We have to find a good way of exploiting that. We’ve seen some of the guys we had on that tour and the way they play their cricket. It think it is important coming into this series that if we just wait and expect it to be the exactly the same we could find ourselves getting soaked in. It’s very important that we play what’s right for us. We respect the surface, the opposition and I am sure the guys want to put their stamp mark on the team and how they are going to take it forward. It’s important we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves with too many ideas.”
England’s last tour to Sri Lanka was dominated by their three-pronged spin attack of Jack Leach, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid who amongst them captured 48 of the 56 wickets that fell to bowlers in the series. This time around Root does not have that luxury as only Leach is available and supporting him are two spinners Dom Bess with 4 Tests behind him and Matt Parkinson who has yet to appear in a Test.
“We expect the surfaces to be slightly different but we are quite open-minded about what to expect. It (the absence of Moeen and Rashid) also gives the opportunity for some of the other guys to show what they are capable of,” said Root. “Young guys who have probably not played much cricket in these conditions before so these warm-up games are going to be very important for us making sure that we get as much out of this as possible. Take as much from the games. When the guys who have played they generally put their hands up on their performances, they are full of confidence and ready to show what they can do out here.”
With England cricketers taking precautions against the corona virus and been told to “fist pump” instead of shaking hands with their Sri Lankan rivals during the Test series, there was no customary hand shake between Root and Sri Lankan skipper Dimuth Karunaratne as they held their first formal press conference at Shangri-La Hotel yesterday.
“We have to make sure we look after ourselves and the team so no handshakes and no autographs. It’s against our nature as a team we quite like to interact with fans and sign autographs and things like that, but we can’t,” said Root. “We have to restrict ourselves and make sure that we are looking after ourselves and the team and the series. I don’t think the guys are worried about that it’s not much we can do other than prepare well for the series.”
Rival skipper Karunaratne also spoke on the same lines and said that the team was not so much worried about the virus but they were solely concentrating on what they have to do in the next few weeks preparing against England.
“We are in good frame of mind for the Test series, playing at home also gives us the advantage. England is a good side the last occasion we lost to them 0-3. They are not like other country’s they compete well in the subcontinent so we have to be prepared for the challenge. There are no big changes to our squad and I am looking forward to performing well,” said Karunaratne.
“It is easy to captain a side when there are not so many changes to it. You saw that during the ODIs against the West Indies. A lot of good things came out of the series and we hope to carry them into the Test series as well,” he said.
Sri Lanka’s head coach Mickey Arthur said, “We are preparing as we can possibly can against a very good cricket team. England has played a lot of good competitive cricket of late probably on different surfaces although Port Elizabeth did turn in a Test match up there. We are preparing at our best, to do our disciplines as best as we can. Obviously we will prepare and analyse England as any team would and find what we think could be potential weaknesses, but at the moment we are very much focused on getting our teams spot on, getting our disciplines spot on and working on what we can control at the moment.”
The two-Test series starts on March 19 at Galle, but before that England commence at 4-day warm-up match against a Sri Lanka Cricket President’s XI at the P Sara Oval starting today.