England are in good shape as they prepare to kick off a big year with a two-Test series in Sri Lanka, starting tomorrow.
The tourists have a very balanced squad and a lot of depth to choose from; that hasn’t always been the case in previous years.
With Ben Stokes, Rory Burns, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Ollie Pope and Jofra Archer unavailable, this series offers some of England’s less experienced players, like Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, a chance to stamp their authority on the side.
Playing in the subcontinent presents particular challenges but Sibley and Crawley are old-school, with the temperament needed to bat for a long time.
They are happy knocking ones and twos rather than looking to take the ball over the ropes too quickly.
Dan Lawrence, who could make his debut, is more aggressive. Like Pope, he is keener to take on the attack.
England have good spinners in Jack Leach and Dom Bess, who are starting to find their feet in Test cricket, and lots of pace options.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad always want to play and will no doubt have personal targets that they are eager to hit.
That’s great, but it’s no secret that they’re better assets at home, so it may be worth limiting their game time in Sri Lanka if they are to be fresh for the summer and potentially the Ashes tour.
It would also be good for England and other players to get used to the idea that Anderson and Broad won’t be around forever.
So if Olly Stone is fit I’m sure we’ll see him and it would be good to see what Mark Wood can do.
Question marks over England
Touring the subcontinent can be hard. You need to bond as a team; that will be harder to do and less fun with Covid-19 protocols in place.
At the start of a new year there are always some question marks, and those are magnified in these sorts of conditions.
England are slow starters in overseas tours, although that could be said of most teams.
Having not played a Test match since August, they may be rusty.
They just have to switch on as quickly as possible, and that is harder in quiet grounds than when you have 50,000 India fans screaming at you.
England have been very solid in all formats, though, and should be confident and hungry.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, are in a rebuilding phase. They have some exciting young players but not the Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara or Rangana Herath of old.
The tourists’ depth is greater and I expect them to win 2-0.