With England’s two best hopes of Ashes success all but certain absentees, further withdrawals could turn a highly-anticipated summer into a non-competitive farce.
Though the bookies have England and Sri Lanka just about equal for their two-Test series starting in Galle this week, the visitors are undoubtedly on the back foot.
England are without Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, who are both being rested for the upcoming series against India. In their place are youngsters coming into a side that needs to try out and iron out some kinks before meeting India in February and, later in the year, Australia for the 2021-22 Ashes.
Right now they have more questions than answers, and if they’re not answered at least in part before the first Test against India in Chennai on 5 February, they’ll already be behind the eight ball.
All that considered, these are the three English players under the most pressure this month.
The English Test skipper is propping up his top six, which features the inexperienced Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley opening the batting and Jonny Bairstow projected to be out of position at No. 3. Root will need to make big scores to set up the English bowling attack with something to defend.
Contrary to popular belief, Root’s away record is very solid. He is averaging 45.13 in 83 innings with 25 half-centuries and six tonnes. His record of 17 wins, 15 losses and four draws is solid enough, but the concerning two stats are that England’s ten-wicket average is 292 runs, which is the lowest of all English captains in the 21st century, and that England haven’t batted out a draw under his leadership.
In England’s previous tour of Sri Lanka Ben Foakes was England’s wicketkeeper and the man of the series, and he isn’t taking the gloves at all in the first Test in Galle, with England’s best-ever T20 player Jos Buttler in the firing line instead.
‘Alfred’ does have an outstanding record in Sri Lanka, never being dismissed for under 16 and making 250 runs with a strike rate of 71 on the last tour. Buttler averages only 33.93 with the bat but his last three scores of 67, 75 and 152 is the form the Poms are hoping for.
Foakes is incredibly unlucky given he hasn’t played a Test in two years and averages 41.5, but Buttler is playing for his spot against India, with perhaps his keeping under more pressure than his batting. With two frontline spinners and Joe Root’s ability to throw down a few overs, he will need to keep the ‘byes’ column low.
Jack Leach was a hero in many senses in the 2019 Ashes series but in the recent home summer against Pakistan he was the No. 1 guy. With the likes of Scott Mason Crane, Moeen Ali (not playing due to contracting COVID-19) and Adil Rashid (not selected on the tour) as spinning options, Bess needs to prove himself as the main spinner in the English line-up.
His record of 19 wickets in ten Tests with an average of 40.6 isn’t flattering at all, and even though he’s a very good bat for a No. 9 (223 runs at 27.9), Galle is a spinner’s dream after Day 2, and he’ll need good spells and to always threaten the Sri Lankans to ensure that England have the best chances to win the game and that his spot is secured moving forward.