Wednesday 4 March 2020 9:04 pm

England have the spin options to be successful in Sri Lanka once again and climb the Test Championship table

England flew out to Sri Lanka on Monday ahead of their upcoming Test tour of the country, which will have an added significance.

The World Test Championship may have started on 1 August last year but it has only now started to come into focus for those competing in it. 

Having won five of their nine Test matches since August, England are currently fourth in the standings, behind India, Australia and New Zealand.

If they want to be in the final at Lord’s in June 2021 then they need to make up the gap to the top two before the cut-off point early next year.

Good idea

New Zealand’s 2-0 series win over leaders India, which was confirmed on Monday, changed the balance of the league and showed why the Test Championship is a good idea.

People are perhaps still trying to get their heads around it, but it adds another layer to Test cricket without changing its tradition. 

The two-year period it runs over means there is enough time to properly separate the best sides from the rest. 

New Zealand v India - Second Test: Day 3
New Zealand’s win over India has increased the competition in the Test Championship (via Getty Images)

Lots of teams are strong at home at the moment and the format means every side will have to play plenty of series away from home too. That is where the top two can mark themselves out.

That is exactly what England want to do in Sri Lanka. Having impressed in their 3-1 series victory in South Africa they have an opportunity to build on it in a country where they won 3-0 on their last visit in 2018-19.

Spin-friendly 

Sri Lanka is a place where spin bowling traditionally plays a big part. The spin trio of Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Jack Leach combined to take 48 wickets on the three-Test tour last time, with seamers playing a much reduced role.

Stuart Broad only featured in one Test, while James Anderson and Sam Curran both managed to take just one wicket across the two they played in. 

Dom Bess
Bess has been working with spin consultant Jeetan Patel (via Getty Images)

The conditions mean the captain will turn to spin after five or 10 overs, so Leach, Dom Bess and Matt Parkinson should be ready to perform big roles. 

Although Bess had played Test cricket for England before, his return in South Africa came from nowhere, as he leapfrogged Parkinson to take his opportunity in two Test wins. 

For someone who had to go on loan from Somerset to Yorkshire to get game time it was an impressive comeback, with his spell of 5-51 in Port Elizabeth the stand-out. 

Given that Leach didn’t play in South Africa due to gastroenteritis and sepsis, Bess might even have taken the role as first spinner. 

Leach hasn’t played since taking 2-153 in November’s drawn Test on a flat pitch in Mount Maunganui but, having claimed 18 wickets at an average of 21.38 in Sri Lanka last time, he will be confident.

Bowling tactics

It will be interesting to see what approach England take now they don’t have the experience of Moeen or Rashid to call upon.

Do they stick with two spinners in Bess and Leach, or do they go for a more attacking route?

Parkinson, as a leg-spinner, offers that to captain Joe Root. He might go for four or five runs per over, but on a flat wicket, and with Leach or Bess offering control at the other end, he can try to rag the ball and take wickets. 

Read more: England Lions’ success in Australia comes as a welcome boost for Sri Lanka tour and the 2021 Ashes

The 23-year-old is yet to make his Test debut, but he has been picked in all six squads for England’s winter tours so he must be impressing head coach Chris Silverwood in the nets.

Matt Parkinson
Parkinson has bowled just 100 balls in international cricket so far (via Getty Images)

I’m surprised Parkinson hasn’t been given an opportunity yet, but I’m sure his debut is just a matter of time, when the right opportunity and the right pitch presents itself. 

Root’s off-spin has improved recently, as shown by his 4-87 at Port Elizabeth, so he won’t be shy in bowling himself in Sri Lanka. Joe Denly is also better than a part-timer with his leg-spin, so England do have the luxury of plenty of options.

With memories of success on their last tour of the country, young spinners eager to impress, and Test Championship points to play for, England should be full of confidence.

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