GALLE, Sri Lanka: England begin a busy year of test cricket with an expected trial by spin in Sri Lanka when the first test in Galle gets underway on Thursday.
It is the first of 17 tests in a congested 2021 programme for the touring side, who will have to grapple not only with tough playing conditions but also the mental fatigue of the strict bio-secure bubble that has been imposed.
The threat of contracting the coronavirus has hung heavily over the tour party and already impacted, with Moeen Ali testing positive on arrival last week and having to isolate away from his team mates and miss the first test.
It leaves England a spinner short for a contest which is expected to be determined by a turning wicket as Sri Lanka host a home series for only the second time in more than two years.
Sri Lanka, who were to host England last March before the COVID-19 lockdown, hobble into the series from a 2-0 defeat in South Africa during which they suffered several serious injuries after some 11 months without test cricket.
Fresh from domestic Twenty20 competition, Sri Lanka looked ill-prepared for the tempo of the red ball game and were swept aside in both tests, but only after four players suffered muscle strains in the first match in Pretoria.
Veterans Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal and senior seamer Suranga Lakmal are all due to rejoin the squad for the two tests against England. The second test is also in Galle and starts on Jan. 22.
England, who are touring without Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes, are expected to hand a debut to Dan Lawrence at number five in the batting order and possibly add a third spinner to support Dom Bess and Jack Leach.
England tour India next month, then host New Zealand and India at home before heading to Australia at the end of the year for the Ashes.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ed Osmond)