Following today's disappointing washout, now seems as good a chance as any to take a look at 3 players we should be keeping an eye on over the coming weeks.
When I heard that Olly Stone had been called up for both England’s ODI and test squads this winter, I was over the moon. I actually played with (and against) him a little bit around 6 years ago, for the Northants Academy, and he’s an incredibly nice guy. He’s also very quick and aggressive with a cricket ball in hand, and will hopefully add another dimension to our attack.
It seems that he’s primarily in the ODI team as cover for the soon to be wed Liam Plunkett, but I suspect he was always going to get a Test call-up, irrespective of who may or may not be getting married. The selectors have probably included him in the ODIs to let him join up with the group nice and early and bed in before the real reason he’s in Sri Lanka takes centre stage: the Test Series. He’s different to Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, and Chris Woakes, and personally I’d pick him in the first Test over both of the latter two. He’ll take the flat, slow pitches out of the equation more so than Broad and Woakes will, while his ability to take wickets might be exactly what England require. Anderson will hold an end, while Moeen and Rashid can expect to do a lot of the bowling. That will leave Olly to work in 4 or 5 over bursts, where he should be asked to bowl quick and straight, and add another dimension to our otherwise similar attack.
Hopefully, Stone makes his full international debut on Saturday (following today's washout) and can get a feel for it. Even if he just plays a couple of the five (now four) ODIs, that experience might be invaluable when it comes to the red-ball part of the tour. Keep an eye on his speeds, and your fingers crossed for an injury-free few months. He’ll undoubtedly need his own Barmy anthem too so thinking caps on please folks and send us any ideas via the usual channels.
Moeen Ali may seem a surprising inclusion in this list. It’s not as if we don’t know much about him, and he’s been a regular in England’s side reasonably consistently for the past 5 years or so. Much has been said, though, about his ability to lead the attack in spin-friendly conditions. He performed extremely well when recalled against India this summer, but his ability to take wickets in England has rarely been questioned.
He’s started the tour well, taking 3 fer in England’s first warm-up game, and strong performances in the ODI series will set him up nicely for the Tests. He’s clearly a confidence player, who thrives when he doesn’t feel too pressurised, but keep an eye on his performance this tour. If he can deliver out in Sri Lanka with bat and ball, that will give the whole team a huge boost for future away series.
Chandimal makes it onto my list as he’s the man replacing Angelo Matthews as skipper for the ODI series. Matthews’ omission is an interesting one, if only for the supposed logic behind it: he’s not very good at running. It doesn’t even seem to be a fitness issue, more the fact that he has a bit of a reputation for running out his team-mates and turning down quick singles. That is, according to Sri Lanka cricket. It’s not the biggest leap to suggest that there may be a few other issues at play here.
With all the talk about Chandimal’s promotion to captain seemingly centred on the man he’s replaced, it will be very interesting to see how he steps up. He’s undoubtedly a talented player, but Matthews has repeatedly performed with both bat and ball for Sri Lanka for a number of years. If he gets a couple of low scores, he might start to feel the pressure of steeping into such big shoes. Keep an eye on how he puts his stamp on the side, too, as Matthews has had his place secured for some time now. It’s also worth noting that Matthews looks likely to return for the test series, adding another interesting dynamic to an already unusual situation.
More generally, England’s tour of Sri Lanka will tell us a lot. ODI-wise, it’s a great test of Eoin Morgan’s men in some tricky, uncomfortable conditions, while Joe Root and the test team will look to go some way in shaking off the “home team specialists” tag.