England look set to field two debutants in the Galle Test.
The Surrey pair of Rory Burns and Ben Foakes both look likely to play, with Burns set to opening the batting and Foakes set to keep wicket and bat at No. 7. He will be England’s third wicketkeeper in three Tests.
England did not reveal their team the day before the game as has become their custom. With the pitch covered due to the rain that could well prove a feature of this match, they were unable to take anything more than a quick glance at the surface. They have, therefore, decided to keep their options open until they know how it is going to look at the toss. With the forecast poor, it’s not out of the question that that may even be delayed until the second day.
But it seems that, whatever happens, Joe Denly will miss out. While England had planned for him to start the series batting at No. 3, his form in the warm-up games – with bat and ball – has provoked a re-think. He could be forgiven for feeling unfortunate: having waited until he was 32 for his first Test tour, he’s had only two innings to impress and simply failed to take the chance. It’s not impossible he could feature later in the series, but it is unlikely.
Meanwhile Foakes took part in wicketkeeping drills while the other option for the gloves, Jos Buttler, practised his out-fielding. With a first-class batting average of 40.64, Foakes is a more-than-decent batsman, but it is keeping that has long rendered him an outstanding prospect. He has been part of the England system throughout his career – he made his List A debut for the Lions rather than in county cricket – and is expected to prove more reliable standing up to the stumps against the spin than Buttler. Last year, his director of cricket at Surrey, Alec Stewart, rated him as the best keeper in the world.
While Jonny Bairstow is expected to be fit for the second Test, there is no certainty he will reclaim the gloves. If Keaton Jennings, in particular, struggles in Galle, Bairstow could fit back into the middle-order with Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes both expected to bat in the top three.
England are set to field a team containing several inexperienced players – Jack Leach has only played one Test, too – but the chances of Stuart Broad playing have increased a little. Broad is one of just two men – James Anderson is the other – in this England squad to have played Test cricket in Sri Lanka previously and it remains possible, though unlikely, he could be selected ahead of Sam Curran. Chris Woakes, who bowled a long spell in the nets on Monday, appears to have dropped out of consideration, while Broad, Anderson and Curran did not bowl.
Root said he wanted to wait and see the pitch – which has had no chance to dry out under covers – before confirming his side, but he did accept that it would turn come what may.
“I still think spin is going to play a huge part,” he said. “I think when it’s been tacky here in the past it’s still spun. We’ve just got to adapt very well very quickly and read the situation.
“We’ve got a very balanced squad with plenty of different options. Whichever XI we go with we’re going to be blessed with that. From that point of view I feel we’ll be very well prepared for whatever surface is thrown at us.”
Root also implored his seamers not to “waste a delivery”. With the new Kookaburra ball expected to swing for around 10 overs, it is imperative England’s seamers make the batsmen play in that period. For all the skill and success of Anderson and Broad over the years, that has not always been their strongest suit
“You see in the subcontinent how important those first 10 balls are as a batter,” Root told Talksport. “You can’t waste a delivery with the ball, especially the seamers, so having that mindset and being really aware of that is going to be really important for us to have success here.”