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Preview: Sri Lanka haven't had the best of times in the 50-over format in recent months. They lost a home series against South Africa 3-2 and were then ousted in the first round of the 2018 Asia Cup after losses against Afghanistan and Bangladesh. But now back in home territory, the Islanders will be keen to turn a corner in the five-match One-Day International series that gets underway in Dambulla from Wednesday.
There has been a stark contrast in the fortunes of the two sides over the last few months. While Sri Lanka have largely struggled to get their team balance in order, England have emerged victorious against top sides such as Australia and India in recent times. They are the No.1 side in the world on the ICC rankings and despite a historically poor record in Sri Lanka are firm favourites to come up trumps in the ODI series.
However, despite their strong showings in recent times captain Eoin Morgan insisted that England were far from a finished product with the World Cup eight months down the line.
"We still have a long way to go," he said ahead of the first ODI. "It's taken us three and a half years to get to where we are, but I think we're getting to the most important part of what we've been planning towards."
England's turnaround since the 2015 World Cup has been tremendous. They shed their old-fashioned approach of preserving wickets upfront and then going for the big hits in the last 10 overs, something that has worked wonders for them. Openers Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy have played a vital role in this with the former in particular, showing a different side of his batting since being promoted to the top. In the last 12 months, Bairstow has amassed 970 runs in the 50-over format at an average of 51.05 and more importantly a strike-rate of 121.05.
The middle-order then boasts the likes of Alex Hales, Joe Root and Morgan. Having played in the sub-continent conditions before, England will rely on them to counter the spin-threat posed by Sri Lanka while Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali will look to provide the late flourish.
The bowling attack as well looks largely sorted with Ali and Adil Rashid taking on the spin duties while Chris Woakes, Stokes and Mark Wood will for a change play second fiddle to the spinners on tracks which are likely to turn from the outset. In the only warm-up match against a Sri Lanka XI, both Ali and Rashid were impressive. While the former picked up 3 for 42 in his ten overs, Rashid conceded just 46 runs in his ten-over spell.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, will have to bring out their A game to challenge a strong England unit. There have been a few changes in the squad that went to Dubai for the Asia Cup. For starters, they have a new captain in Dinesh Chandimal, who replaces Angelo Mathews in the side. Having missed the Asia Cup because of injury Chandimal's inclusion comes as a welcome boost for the middle-order that needs some amount of solidity. He gave a good account of himself in the practice match against England scoring 77.
"We have been trying to figure out where we have got things wrong," Chandimal said. "We have an idea now. We will let players adjust to the situations."
The hosts will heavily rely on their spin trio of Akila Dananjaya, Lakshan Sandakan and Amila Aponso to do the bulk of the damage. England have shown their vulnerabilities again the turning ball and Sri Lanka will be keen on exploiting it.
The fast bowling unit will be led by Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Pradeep, who will guide the likes of Kasun Rajitha and Dushmantha Chameera.
The ODIs will be played in Dambulla, Pallekele and Colombo's Khettarama Stadium. The monsoon rains are likely to affect the series. England's final warm-up match was washed out due to rain and the forecast is not too bright in the coming days as well.
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (captain), Upul Tharanga, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Thisara Perera, Akila Dananjaya, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Malinga, Amila Aponso, Lakshan Sandakan, Nuwan Pradeep, Kasun Rajitha
England: Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Olly Stone, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
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