With tougher tests ahead – Pakistan are up next – England will likely take the opportunity to test out fringe players
It’s hard to remember a time when Sri Lanka went into a match with so little expected of them (well apart from the previous two games of course). This, even in the likely event of considerable rotation on the part of their opponents. The discourse back home is hardly helping; every misstep, every bad result now seemingly leading to a cascade of ridicule by the public and former players alike. The need for fearless cricket might have been captain Kusal Perera‘s clarion call, but that is proving to be much easier said than done.
The challenge for Sri Lanka and its coaching staff is eking out whatever positives, and tuning out the rest. In the last game, Dhananjaya de Silva‘s impactful return to the side paired with Dasun Shanaka – once a player touted by former coach Chandika Hathurusingha as being a potential long-term No. 5 – hitting form was promising. These two, along with the increasingly reliable Wanindu Hasaranga, might even look like a workable middle order.
The bowling unit, too, is a hard-working one and Hasaranga and the excellent Dushmantha Chameera give it wicket-taking threat.
Where concern is rife is in the top order, which once again struggled against the moving ball. All of the top three were out either lbw or bowled – not a good look for an international cricket team – while the rest failed to negotiate the shorter stuff – again, not good.
But you have to imagine these are eminently fixable technical issues. Just that they kinda need to be fixed right now.
For England, the series has gone as well as they could have imagined. The batting stalwarts have come into runs, the bowlers have been impressive, and right throughout the intensity levels have scarcely dropped.
Joe Root in particular has been imperious, ever ready to snuff out even faint specks of hope that may have cropped up for Sri Lanka in the first two games. Then there’s been the England seamers, Chris Woakes and David Willey in the first game, then Sam Curran and Willey in the second, who have offered the Sri Lankan batters little to no respite.
But with tougher tests ahead – Pakistan are up next in England’s calendar – this will very likely be an opportunity to test out fringe players.
While Bristol hasn’t been the happiest of ODI hunting grounds for England (six wins, five losses), the way the rest of the series has gone it’s hard to imagine anything but a home win, especially with Super League points on the line.
England WWLWL Sri Lanka LLWLL
In the spotlight
Avishka Fernando was a surprise inclusion in the last game after he had seemingly been ruled out of the tour with a torn quadricep. While he failed to make an impact on his return, it’s hard to forget the excitement that surrounded the youngster following his debut in 2019 and subsequent coming out to the wider cricketing fraternity at that year’s World Cup, where he impressed with cameos against England and South Africa before notching his maiden ODI ton against West Indies. He carried that form through to 2020, but an injury left him sidelined until this England tour. With Sri Lanka’s top order misfiring, Fernando rekindling the form that painted him out as a future star will go a long way towards helping his side not leave the tour empty handed.
Chris Woakes‘ 4 for 18 in the first ODI took out the spine of the Sri Lankan batting, but in line with England’s workload management policy, he was promptly rested in the second game. With five days off, Woakes will be raring to go again and keen to keep himself at the forefront of the selectors’ thoughts. On a ground where the average score hovers around 240, Woakes’ lower-order batting could also come in handy.
Pitch and conditions
The Bristol surface usually has something in it for both the batters and the bowlers, but with rain very much on the cards it’s quite likely the game won’t see its full allotment of overs.
With the series wrapped up, England’s attention will likely turn to the fringe players. Tom Banton, who was called up for the injured David Malan, Liam Livingstone and Liam Dawson are probably all in with a shout of making the XI while there could also be a debut for the Sussex left-arm seamer George Garton.
England (possible): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 3 Joe Root/Tom Banton, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Sam Billings/Liam Livingstone, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Sam Curran, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 David Willey, 10 Adil Rashid/Liam Dawson, 11 Mark Wood/George Garton
The Sri Lankan team management has gone on the record stating their desire to get players used to certain roles within the side. As such it’s unlikely there’ll be too many changes, if any, to the batting line-up from the last game. On the bowling front, it could go either way; with overcast conditions expected they may choose to stick with a four-pronged seam attack, but with Bristol known to help spinners on occasion, there could be spot open for one of Lakshan Sandakan or Praveen Jayawickrama.