Amidst the never-ending IPL 9, England will host Sri Lanka in the first Test of a fresh season at Headingley. It was here that Sri Lanka created history two years ago when they overcame the Englishmen in a tense game to create history, and registered their maiden victory on English soil. However, a lot has changed since that dramatic day at Headingley. The fortunes of both sides have changed dramatically. England will definitely go into the match, and the series as favourites, as the visitors after the loss of their legends to retirement, are a weakened outfit.
England have a few fresh faces in the team, with some of them being forced ones. With James Taylor being forced to retire with a heart condition, James Vince is most likely to make his entry. England have also chosen Jake Ball as one of the pace options. But, one is not very sure whether he will get a chance in the playing eleven for the hosts have abundant options in the pace bowling department. James Anderson and Stuart Broad, two of the best Test bowlers in the modern day game, will lead the attack. And, Ball is likely to get a look-in only if England choose him over Steve Finn.
In spite of Taylor's exit, England's batting still wears a reasonably comprehensive look. In spite of many ups and downs, skipper Alastair Cook has held his own, and will look to buckle down, and get big hundreds. The 2014 shock will definitely be at the back of his mind, as he looks for redemption. In Joe Root, England have arguably the most complete batsman in current times, and a lot will obviously be expected of him. There are a couple of batsman who have a point to prove though. Alex Hales had a forgettable initiation to Test cricket, and will want to make amends while Nick Compton too is looking to re-establish his place in the team.
While Sri Lanka will have fond memories of the 2014 contest at this very same venue, they are already heading into the contest on the back foot. Dhammika Prasad, who was one of the heroes of that match, with his five-wickets in the second innings, has been ruled out with a shoulder injury. That performance was the coming of age for the pacer, and he has certainly been a different player since. In his absence, there will be greater responsibility on the likes of Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep and Dushmantha Chameera. Of the three Chameera, has been most impressive in recent times.
The one major change for Lanka since 2014 has been the loss of big names in the batting giants Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. It has been a while since the two legends have retired. The others in the team have not really stepped up since. At the top, Dimuth Karunaratne will have a big role to play. Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne are the experienced players, who will need to stand up and deliver. The biggest challenge of all will be for skipper Angelo Mathews, who will have to lead with bat and ball. It won't be easy, but it wasn't in 2014 as well.
--By A Cricket Analyst