Many a visiting team have succumbed to the trial by spin in Sri Lanka and Joe Root’s England will have to step up their game against the turning ball to escape that fate in the Test series beginning at Galle on Tuesday.
Sri Lanka have never shied away from milking their home advantage and the team, who have lost only one of their past six Test series at home, are unlikely to do anything different against an unsettled England.
The three-Test series promises a familiar sight, with Sri Lanka’s wily spinners to bowl tirelessly and often in tandem, preying on the technique and temperament of the touring batsmen on tracks where the fast bowlers will play cameos.
And leading Sri Lanka’s charge, for one last time, will be a bulky 40-year-old with a golden arm and creaky knees as Rangana Herath ends his illustrious career at the same Galle where he made his Test debut 19 years ago.
Herath has carried Sri Lanka’s spin burden on his shoulders since Muttiah Muralitharan’s exit but the left-arm spinner has decided he cannot carry on.
He will retire after his 93rd Test, having already established himself as the most successful left-arm spinner in Test history with 430 scalps.
Sri Lankan cricket of late has been a microcosm of the politically riven country, and Dinesh Chandimal’s team will have to find ways to focus on the game amid turmoil off-field.
Former captain Sanath Jayasuriya and bowling coach Nuwan Zoysa are battling anti-corruption charges, while Sri Lanka Cricket chief financial officer Wimal Nandika Dissanayake has been remanded in custody by police for suspected financial misappropriation.
In comparison, England’s problem is to identify the best combination, especially the selections of their number three and wicketkeeper.
With Keaton Jennings set to open with the uncapped Rory Burns, Joe Denly was primed for the number three slot, but the 32-year-old’s struggle in the warm-up matches has jeopardised his Test debut.
With wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow recovering from an ankle injury, Jos Buttler is set to play but it could be purely as a batsman, with Surrey wicketkeeper Ben Foakes donning the keeper’s gloves.
“It’s probably the likely scenario (that Buttler plays),” Root told the BBC last week.
“But the reason we called Ben up is he’s a high-quality wicketkeeper and gives us another way to balance the side up. It’s a nice position to be in.”
Kandy hosts the second Test from Nov. 14 and the final match is in Colombo from Nov 23.