The English weather is as unpredictable as ever, and that can mean only one thing: the international summer of cricket is once again upon us. England will be hosting two sides from the sub-continent this year, with Pakistan following Sri Lanka to these shores in the coming months, and the fixtures start on Thursday when Headingley welcomes the Sri Lankans north for the first of a three-match series.
The last time England played Sri Lanka in Leeds it was the visitors who wrapped up a match and series victory back in 2014, so that will certainly be of interest to those anticipating an upset once again.
But this is a very different Sri Lankan side to the one that took to the field that day. Gone are Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene having both retired, Lasith Malinga is not available for test selection and handy seamer Dhammika Prasad has been struck down by injury. Indeed, the only two outstanding players left are Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath, but you would have to say that even their presence will not be enough to fire their side to victory here. They were trounced in New Zealand – where conditions are suitably ‘English’ at the tail-end of 2015, and rolled over in three by India, so this new-look outfit is still struggling to come to terms with the rigours of test cricket.
Incidentally, England lost another test at Headingley last summer – this time to the Kiwis, and all in all they have won just one of their last seven test matches at the ground. The Three Lions are available at as short a price as 1/6 to win the series, justifiably so, but this is very rarely a happy hunting ground for them. With plenty of rain expected this weekend, backing the draw in this first test at 2/1 is worthy of a second look.
But yeah: there’s no point looking elsewhere for inspiration in the Series Winner market. As long as dry weather is a feature, England will win it comfortably.
As punters we always look to good omens for assistance, and what was most compelling in the recent County Championship contest between Yorkshire and Surrey at Headingley was the run-scoring feats of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, who will both be on England duty this week.
They bludgeoned 213 and 198 respectively in Yorkshire’s total of 557-6, and as ever it is Root who catches our eye in the Top England Batsman market for the match at 11/4 and for the series as a whole too. He is the best willow-wielder in the side and in great form, so there’s no reason not to get involved really.
Remember we mentioned that match in Leeds in 2014 in which the Sri Lankans triumphed in? Their opening batsman Dimuth Karunaratne batted nicely there, and he’s been up to his old tricks recently having top-scored with a steady ton in the drawn tour match with Leicestershire at the weekend.
But he may struggle first up against the swinging new ball, so perhaps looking further down the batting order will unearth value in the Top Sri Lanka Batsman market. Mathews has plenty of appeal as ever, but it is Dinesh Chandimal, with a fantastic test average of 45.87, who catches the eye at 5/1 to top score for his team.
If we’re letting that 2014 encounter be a guide then the swing king Jimmy Anderson picked up a five-for there, and the good news for the phlegmatic Lancastrian is that those who swing the ball are still prospering up north. In Yorkshire’s match with Surrey the trio of Jack Brookes, David Willey and Ravi Rampaul took 50% (13 of 26) of the wickets to fall, so that instantly gives us a clue as to who and what to watch out for. Anderson is available at 11/4 to be England’s top bowler here, and with plenty of cloud cover expected that is a smart investment.
This is a relatively inexperienced Sri Lankan attack in green and lush conditions, so finding value in the Top Bowler wicket is a bit of a minefield. We do have an ‘in’ though: Dushmantha Chameera, the wiry seamer, took 12 wickets in two matches on that tour to New Zealand in similar circumstances and so looks a sound bet at 7/2.