features Was this helpful? Support The Guardian How Sri Lanka’s magical 1996 cocktail paved the way for Morgan’s men Four years on and with thoughts once again turning to the biggest prize in international cricket, the roles appear much reversed: Eoin Morgan’s tourists begin in damp Dambulla as the favourites following a three-year ascent to the top of the rankings, while the hosts – eighth in the world and flatlining results-wise – are the team in a spot of bother.England first, for whom Morgan has already described the five-match series that begins with a day-night match on Wednesday as the start of the final preparations for their assault on the home World Cup in eight months’ time. Though the expected conditions may differ hugely, the captain is keen for fresh scenarios that can test a largely settled lineup further.Their batting strength will likely once again be highlighted by Alex Hales – six centuries in the past three years – carrying the drinks. Ben Stokes, hoping for happier times on the teardrop isle after the previous tour here saw him miss out on the World Cup, balances a team who remain bulging with brawn from Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow downwards. That said, few in the setup have forgotten the slow, used pitch in Cardiff that proved England’s undoing in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy against Pakistan in 2017 and it is here where Morgan’s men should receive further exposure to surfaces that require a little more nous than simply striking through the line with abandon.Trevor Bayliss and his assistant, Paul Farbrace, were once in charge of Sri Lanka and have already relayed to the players that scores of 300-plus are not a given in these parts, even if the vice-captain, Jos Buttler, spoke of “putting no limitations on what’s possible”.Spin tends to hold sway and it is Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid who are being spoken about as England’s attacking options, while the seamers accept they may be the ones looking to contain a batting lineup built around Dinesh Chandimal and Upul Tharang once the two new Kookaburras lose their early shine. England look to Olly Stone’s raw power to unsettle Sri Lanka Read more It in this department where World Cup spots remain up for grabs. Chris Woakes, who missed the entire white-ball summer but was England’s leading wicket-taker here four years ago, leads an attack who have lost Liam Plunkett to a clash with his wedding (he returns in time for the third instalment) and David Willey to a back problem.Looking to usurp the pair come next summer are Mark Wood, Sam and Tom Curran, and an uncapped bolter in the pacy Olly Stone. Liam Dawson is here as a third spinning option, too, offering a left-arm angle, and thus where once was a homogenous attack of right-arm fast-medium is a stable of bowlers offering Morgan greater variety.This is Sri Lanka’s wet season and so another handy spot of homework could come via the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern rain regulations that have now been updated by the International Cricket Council to reflect modern power hitting. After England’s first warm-up was won via DLS, and the second washed out entirely, it is likely to be relevant along the way.While England, with 16 matches to go before their World Cup opener against South Africa at the Oval on 30 May, are in fine-tuning mode, Sri Lanka are desperately searching for the handbrake on some sorry form. Thirty of their past 40 ODIs have ended in defeat, with West Indies in 2015 their most recent home series win, a sequence that meant Lasith Malinga, the 35-year-old slinger, was forced to postpone thoughts of retirement. Play Video Share on WhatsApp England thrive on being favourites, says Jos Buttler before Sri Lanka ODI series – video Read more Share on Facebook England cricket team Sri Lanka cricket team As Chandimal noted, while Moeen and Rashid have greater experience in terms of caps (and only Rashid Khan has more ODI wickets than the latter’s 110 since the last World Cup), his slow bowlers offer more mystery. Dananjaya sends down off-breaks, carrom balls and leggies, while in Lakshan Sandakan, Sri Lanka possess a left-arm wrist-spinner.That latter serves as a reminder that England may have arrived in Sri Lanka as the leading team in the world but, having taken a while to crack the code of India’s equivalent, Kuldeep Yadav, during the summer, they can still be fallible against the unorthodox – something this verdant tropical island is famed for producing. Share via Email Quick guide Sri Lanka v England teams for first ODI Reuse this content Share on Messenger Hide Thank you for your feedback. England in Sri Lanka 2018 His return after a year out could not stop things bottoming out at the recent Asia Cup, where they were blitzed by Afghanistan and Bangladesh in the group stage. Angelo Mathews – their premier batsman – was sacked as captain and dropped for poor fitness (and shoddy running between the wickets), while in the background the ICC is investigating allegations of historical match-fixing on the island.“Go back to 2015 and look at the England side as they struggled during the World Cup. The same thing is happening to us at the moment,” said Chandimal, who has stepped up to combine the one-day captaincy with his Test job. “They changed it after the 2015 World Cup, so that is what we are looking at.”The Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium, where tarpaulins and tyres covered the outfield on Tuesday and a light beige pitch was being operated on through a gap in this surgical gown, witnessed two low-scoring defeats to South Africa in August. But one player to emerge in credit from the 3-2 scoreline was Akila Dananjaya with 14 wickets. Cricket Dambulla, Wednesday, 10am (BST)Sri Lanka (possible): Upul Tharanga, Niroshan Dickwella (wkt), Kusal Perera, Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka, Thisara Perera, Akila Dananjaya, Lakshan Sandakan, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith MalingaEngland (probable): Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (c), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wkt), Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Liam Dawson, Adil Rashid, Olly Stone Show Topics The Spin: sign up and get our weekly cricket email. It was a visit to Sri Lanka in late 2014 and a 5-2 series defeat that proved the circuit breaker for Alastair Cook’s time as the England one-day captain, with some shaky-looking plans ripped up on the eve of the World Cup but a grim campaign still resulting. Since you’re here… Share on LinkedIn Share on Twitter 0:44 Share on Pinterest … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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