What can we make of cricket played in such abnormal conditions? England’s victory in Galle was substantial, and yet it was the kind of Test that didn’t reveal a lot about either team. This is largely down to Sri Lanka’s 135 in the first innings – their monument to incompetence, under the shadow of which the remainder of the Test was played. They batted more normally in the second dig, which perhaps provided a more accurate account of their batting ability.
In the second Test, England will expect Sri Lanka’s batting to be closer to that second-innings performance. They will also take pleasure in having breached 400 – a total Sri Lanka never managed, even in their good innings.
Clearly, the visitors head into the second Test feeling better about themselves, and yet, knowing that drawing this Test to preserve their lead is not really an option – draws having become extinct in Sri Lanka in 2014. Strangely, despite having shared 14 wickets between them, it is England’s spinners that may go into the second Test with the most questions to answer. By his own admission, Dom Bess may never have a five-wicket haul as easy as he did in the first innings, plus Sri Lanka played him much better in the second. (They also have a series against India on the horizon, which, let’s be honest, is the main focus of England’s trip. In all likelihood, India’s batsmen will play them better than Sri Lanka’s have.)
Another concern for England may include their openers, who combined made scores of 9. 4, 8 and 2 in the first Test. That said, Jos Buttler’s keeping is categorically not a concern – not only did he out-keep his counterpart Niroshan Dickwella in the first match, he also took practically every reasonable chance that came his way.
Sri Lanka have many more questions to answer, largely to do with whether they can produce two good batting innings in the same Test.
Sri Lanka: LLLDW (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Dilruwan Perera is the most experienced spinner in Sri Lanka’s ranks, but in the first Test was outshone by slow left-armer Lasith Embuldeniya, who was more expensive, but claimed one more wicket in the match. With 160 wickets, Perera is now Sri Lanka’s fourth-highest wicket-taker ever, but is yet to truly stake a claim to the title as the spin attack’s leader – that position going unfilled since the retirement of Herath two years ago. Perera is 38 now, so perhaps winding down his career. But with two young spinners in the side, Sri Lanka will hope he can lead the attack more effectively and take those bowlers under his wing.
There is something bewitching about happy debuts, and Dan Lawrence‘s first outing in Tests was a resounding success, as he produced 73 in the first innings to help press England’s advantage, before his 21 not out in the second dig guided England home following a slightly nervy period late on day four. Sri Lanka will reflect that they did not bowl particularly well at Lawrence in the first innings, and will hope to come back at him with sharper plans. It has already been suggested that Lawrence might bed in for a long career, but he’ll have bigger tests to face in the next few weeks.
Pitch and conditions
Unlike for the previous Test, there have not been substantial rains in Galle leading up to this one. This means the pitch for the second Test will probably start off even drier, and take drastic turn earlier in the game. It goes without saying that a result is expected, but if one of the nastier iterations of Galle’s surface turns up, there’s every chance the game lasts four days or fewer.
Sri Lanka have dropped Kusal Mendis, with Roshen Silva the likeliest batsman to replace him in the XI. They are also hoping that Suranga Lakmal has now got enough overs under his belt to play this Test.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Kusal Perera, 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Roshen Silva, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (captain), 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 7 Dasun Shanaka, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Dilruwan Perera, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lasith Embuldeniya.
England, meanwhile, are likely to rotate their seam attack, with four Tests in India to come. James Anderson, Olly Stone and Chris Woakes are likely to play in place of Stuart Broad, Mark Wood and Sam Curran.
England (probable) 1 Dom Sibley, 2 Zak Crawley, 3 Jonny Bairstow, 4 Joe Root (captain), 5 Dan Lawrence, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Chris Woakes, 8 Dom Bess, 9 Jack Leach, 10 Olly Stone, 11 James Anderson
Stats and trivia
- Sri Lanka have now lost their last four matches against World Test Championship (top nine-ranked) opposition, losing one to England, two to South Africa, and one to Pakistan.
- England have won five matches on the trot in Sri Lanka, stretching back to 2011. They’ve also won their last two Tests at Galle by substantial margins.
- Although Dilruwan Perera’s overall average of 35.34 is unflattering, he does have a better record at Galle, where he averages 25.07. He’s also got his wickets against England at 25.76 apiece.
“You look at the best teams at the top of world cricket right now, and in the history of the game, and that’s what they do over and over again – make big first-innings runs. If we want to be serious about being the best team in the world then it’s something we have to replicate.”
England captain Joe Root has grand ambitions for his team, and a blueprint on how to get to those goals.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf