Mark Wood and Tom Curran are competing for the final spot in England’s XI for the Third ODI against Sri Lanka in Kandy — and with it an invaluable audition for next year’s World Cup.
A spot has become available after Liam Dawson was ruled out of the tour with a side strain picked up in the win in Dambulla on Saturday that gave England a 1-0 series lead. Joe Denly is on his way to Sri Lanka to replace him, while Liam Plunkett only arrived today after getting married at the weekend.
Left-arm spinner Dawson has effectively been filling Plunkett’s role of bowling in the middle overs. Plunkett is likely to return for Saturday’s fourth match, meaning Wood or Curran — who are in the frame ahead of Sam Curran — only have a brief window to impress.
There are only eight matches before England must name their initial World Cup squad on April 23, and both bowlers have work to do to seal their spots in it, especially with Olly Stone’s career starting so well on Saturday. Joe Root could also be expected to support Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid with a few extra overs of spin where needed.
"It [Dawson’s absence] means we go back to what we’ve been doing over the last few years where we play two spinners,” said Moeen today. “This has been the first time we have played three spinners in a very long time. The three spinners are very tight, so it’s a shame for Liam. You sometimes need three spinners and in many ways we still do with Joe Root. The seamers have good skills and are bowling so well, so it’s not too much of a problem.”
To square the series, Sri Lanka must put problems of corruption to one side but also find ways to counter the adaptability of top-ranked England.
England’s ability to bat deep — despite Lasith Malinga’s devastating five for 44, the tourists still scrambled to 278 for nine, in part thanks to Adil Rashid and Olly Stone’s run-a-ball last-wicket stand of 24 — is particularly difficult to deal with. But England’s pace, from Stone, and accuracy, from Chris Woakes, with the new ball also poses a major headache for the hosts. The sight of Stone bouncing out Niroshan Dickwella was one to cheer the tourists greatly, even if Shanaka dismissed suggestions of his threat in his press conference.
Still, as Woakes — one of the four victims of Malinga’s dipping, devious slower balls — said yesterday, England cannot allow the king of sling to “get five for 40 every game”.
Even at 35, Malinga is a canny customer who can be very tricky to deal with early on and can easily get on a roll. Twice at Dambulla, he took two wickets in the same over, and England must deal with him more smartly.
“He’s tough to face,” said Woakes. “I wasn’t expecting that first ball. He’s probably not as quick as he used to be but his arm speed is still up there and it doesn’t slow down for that slower ball. It comes out the umpire a bit, so it’s also hard to see. It is tricky but we have to find a way.”