Record books suggest inevitable Sri Lanka win
Let’s start with the most important thing of all. Test match cricket and ODI cricket are completely different beasts. Even more so these days where 300 batting first is generally seen as an absolute minimum and teams think nothing of scoring at 10 an over in the back end of a chase as long as they have a few wickets in hand, especially if there’s a set batsman at the crease.
So with that in mind, we can pretty much dismiss what happened in the ODI series between these two. Different format, different players, different wickets, different strategies. Almost irrelevant when it comes to the 5-day business.
And here’s the proof. That lacklustre Sri Lanka side who did well to win a game in the ODI Series have won their last three Series (including against South Africa and Australia, no less), winning all of their last seven Tests on home soil. England away? Haven’t won a Series for three years and have won just four of their last 26 when the ball isn’t swinging and seaming on fresh, green English wickets.
There are however two annoying flies in the ointment that should make us be a little cautious about being too ambitious here and going for say 2-0 (7.5) or 3-0 (15.0) Sri Lanka at chunky prices.
The first is that Rangana Herath (more on him in a second) has chosen to retire after the first of the three Tests. He has personal and professional reasons for insisting that he has one last shot at taking wickets in this Galle Test and if you’re wondering why he won’t play the full Series, it’s quite simply that he doesn’t think his body can hack it. Not that surprising: he’s 40 years old and was already playing Test cricket in the late 90s.
Anyway, given he has taken 41% of the team’s wickets over that seven-match period, you can see why it’s a huge blow that he isn’t around for the whole thing.
The second ‘fly’ is that it’s monsoon season in Sri Lanka; we already saw how that can be a nuisance in the ODI series where just about every match was rain-affected one way or the other. It means that it may simply not be possible to get a result with so many overs lost, however well bowlers bowl and however poorly batters bat. So we may even get a couple of draws in the series, making it very hard to have a stab at a correct score. The other obvious problem is that lots of rain doesn’t exactly make for great spinning conditions. Far from it. This is Sri Lanka’s strength when it comes to bowling and it’s the one area where their batsmen are better than England’s: playing spin. There may even be times where the conditions are far more favourable to England than to them.
Still, England’s away record is abysmal, Sri Lanka’s is excellent and if you want to argue that Herath is a huge loss after he plays the First Test, you can argue that the absence of Alastair Cook for England (allied with Jonny Bairstow’s almost certain absence from the First Test) more than levels things up. Let’s not try to be too smart here and let’s just plump for the straight Sri Lanka series win at 2.38.
Herath can retire on a high
Rain is forecast for pretty much the whole of the First Test.
Surely that means that Herath’s influence in his last-ever Test is limited. After all, the ball doesn’t spin much when the wicket is damp, does it?
Maybe not but with a little bit of imagination and some faith, we still think Herath may have the last laugh.
First up, what the weatherman says and what actually happens on the day can be two very different things. Maybe it won’t rain as much as he thinks and even if it does, it’s worth remembering that Herath doesn’t actually turn the ball that much anyway. He’s made a career out of subtle variations in pace and length, rather than relying on the ball turning square. Meaning that if any of the spinners are having to have joy here, it’s him.
The other important factor here is sentimentality. First in the sense that given it’s his last ever Test, he’ll bowl pretty much as many overs as is humanly possible. He’s a few wickets away from breaking some serious records so his captain will give him every chance to get to them by bowling lots and lots of overs.
He’s 7.0 to be man-of-the-match, so let’s think about the second part of the sentimentality issue. The award is decided by commentators or sponsors and even though most games produce an obvious MOM winner when you look at the scorecard, it’s not an exact science.
If someone scores a big hundred or takes 10 wickets in the game with Herath chipping in with just say four wickets, then fine, they’ll give it to that guy rather than Herath. But if it’s a close call with three or four candidates in the mix with Herath being one of them (including a scenario where there are two from each side, if it’s a draw) then few would begrudge the champion spinner getting it. Seems like a small detail but it could make all the difference on the day.
Back Sri Lanka to win the Series @ 2.38 with Ladbrokes/BetFred
Back Rangana Herath to be man-of-the-match in the First Test @ 7.0 with Bet365/Ladbrokes