Sri Lanka tour provides the perfect opportunity for England to exorcise its spin demons


There are still seven months to go before the World Cup, but inevitably, every one-day series is being touted as a preparation for the biggest tournament in cricket.

On the face of it, the hosts could not have a less appropriate place to prepare. The muggy, slow turners of Dambulla and Colombo could not be more different to a breezy day on a flat track at The Oval or Cardiff.

However, while the conditions might be different, this is exactly the opportunity England needs to take the bull by the horns and come up with a way of scoring consistently against spin.

Place your bets

England are at the top of the ODI rankings and are the bookmakers’ favourites to lift the world cup. In short, they are the team to beat, but they are not without their frailties – and every other team knows that the biggest is against spin. You need look only at their performances this summer. On 19 June, Morgan and co descended on Trent Bridge and plundered a record 481-6 against Australia. Less than a month later, it was the same venue but different opposition, and the way the England top order faced the spin of Kuldeep Yadav, they might as well have been at Casinoshark facing the spin of a roulette wheel and putting it all on black number six.

Yadav bewitched and beguiled, taking 6-25 from his ten overs, and England were all at sea. England did, of course, go on to win the series. Root found a way to negate the Yadav Effect, playing back, staying watchful and eking out match-winning centuries in low-scoring affairs.

Runs will be hard to come by in Sri Lanka

There could be some more eking to do in the subcontinent, and not just for Root. The last series to be played in Sri Lanka was in August, when South Africa narrowly defeated the home team 3-2. Across the seven matches, 300 was topped only twice, and Sri Lanka’s best-performing bowler was off-spinner Akila Dananjaya, who took 14 wickets, twice as many as the next-highest wicket taker.

Sri Lanka might be a shadow of the team that has traditionally performed so well in white-ball cricket, but England will go into this tour taking nothing for granted. The last visit here was also on the eve of a World Cup, back in 2014. That was the series that England lost 5-2, and that precipitated the sudden and ruthless axing of Alastair Cook. History shows that even greater disaster followed, with England bundled out of the World Cup at the group stage.

Time to hone the skills

A repetition of that seems highly unlikely. That 2014 series win was the last time Sri Lanka beat one of the top teams – in the years since, their only victories have come at the expense of Bangladesh, West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe. England, on the other hand are riding on the crest of a wave. They might not be infallible, but this tour will be the perfect opportunity to focus on that one Achilles heel and be stronger than ever for next May.