England have honed a reputation over recent years as one of the most big-hitting ODI sides around, but they are prepared to play a more measured game in Sri Lanka if conditions dictate, according to opener Jonny Bairstow.
The five-match ODI series, which pits top-ranked England against No. 8 Sri Lanka, starts next week, with pressure on the hosts after a failed Asia Cup campaign that led to the controversial dropping of captain Angelo Mathews. It is a far cry from four years ago, when England went to Sri Lanka to fine tune for the World Cup, were beaten 5-2 and sacked Alastair Cook.
Since that 2014 encounter, Sri Lanka have only won two bilateral ODI series – against West Indies and Ireland. Their last outing at home, against South Africa in July, resulted in a 3-2 defeat, although the series was lost by the time Sri Lanka managed to win a game.
England, by contrast, have won eight series in a row (excluding a one-off defeat to Scotland), and broke their own record for the highest ODI team score in the summer, racking up 481 for 6 against Australia at Trent Bridge. However, Bairstow said England are ready to “grit it out” against Sri Lanka if the surfaces don’t prove so friendly.
“If you look at the pitches for South Africa they looked like good cricket pitches,” Bairstow told reporters in Colombo. “Whether they change their tactics and produce pitches that are slightly different for us… so be it.
“We’ve got to prepare like that’s the case. Yes, we’d like to play on good pitches and yes, we’d like to have high-scoring games but we’re prepared to guts it out and grit it out if needed.
“Both teams have to bat and bowl on them, whether it’s batting first or bowling first, under lights or through the day. We’ve experienced these challenges before in India and Bangladesh and come out on top, so we’re confident going into the series. We like to think the majority of our players have experienced conditions around the world.”
While England have developed an attacking outlook rivalled by few other one-day sides, they have been prone to occasional spectacular collapses, and Bairstow’s comments reflect a recognition that they must be prepared for a variety of challenges ahead of next year’s World Cup on home soil.
They will begin their tour proper on Friday, when they take on a Sri Lankan XI in Colombo with a largely settled side. Bairstow has become a default pick at opener – Jason Roy and Alex Hales are the options to partner him – scoring all six of his ODI hundreds over the last 18 months, but he was not even part of the squad four years ago.
“It’s great that it’s gone so well but you want to keep it going in the right direction,” Bairstow said. “I’m happy with my game, but you want to keep improving, moving forward, pushing yourself. This is a great opportunity to do that.”