England will be hoping to complete the rare feat of securing a 3-0 series sweep in Sri Lanka when Joe Root’s confident touring side take on the depleted hosts in the third and final test on Friday.
Ricky Ponting’s all-conquering Australian side were the first to win 3-0 in Sri Lanka 14 years ago, while a Virat Kohli-led India repeated the feat in August last year.
Having ended a 17-year wait for a series win in Sri Lanka, England will climb a place to second in test rankings behind India, who they beat 4-1 at home this year, reversing a 4-0 away series loss to Kohli’s side at the end of 2016.
“Only two sides have won 3-0 here… and they were both the number one side,” Root told reporters this week.
“So it would give the guys a huge amount of confidence if we could carry the momentum, skill levels and smart nature with which we’ve played these first two tests into the next one.
“It would be a nice follow-on to this tour to be going on and playing in India now. It’s a very difficult place to go and play, but we would have a good chance. Better than we had previously.
“It’s hard to say (how we would do), but the most important thing is that we’re on that upward curve. We’re where we want to be.”
The hosts have been weakened by the loss of spin ace Rangana Herath to retirement after the opening test in Galle and they will also be deprived of promising off-spinner Akila Dananjaya, who took eight wickets in the last match in Pallekele, including career-best figures of 6-115 in the second innings.
Dananjaya misses the dead rubber to have his bowling action assessed in Australia this week after he was reported by match officials for a suspect action during the Galle loss.
Sri Lanka will also be without regular skipper Dinesh Chandimal as he recovers from a groin injury that he picked up in the series opener. Pace bowler Suranga Lakmal will continue to deputise as captain in his absence.
England have made two changes to their team with seamer Stuart Broad coming in for the rested James Anderson, while Jonny Bairstow replaces injured all-rounder Sam Curran, who is out with a side strain.
Wicketkeeper Bairstow, who missed the first test due to an ankle injury, will play as a specialist batsman with Ben Foakes retaining the gloves after also impressing with the bat.
Root was backing Bairstow to cement his place at the troublesome number three spot, which would also provide the England order with a greater stability.
“One thing we all know about Jonny is whenever he’s got a point to prove or is up against it, he generally comes out and does something pretty special,” Root said.
“Hopefully, we see that with Jonny this week — that determination and drive to really hammer that spot home for himself. It’s an opportunity for him to try and nail that spot down and he’s more than capable of doing it.” (Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by John O’Brien)