A look at the England-Sri Lanka test series

England heads into test series against Sri Lanka and India on the back of a stunning Ashes victory in Australia, giving the team confidence it can finally climb to the top of the world rankings for the first time.

Andrew Strauss’ side retained the Ashes away from home for the first time in 24 years and could now take over No. 1 spot in the rankings with back-to-back series wins this summer. That would also hinge on results in the three-match test series between West Indies and top-ranked India, which starts in June.

England has only lost three series out of 22 at home since 2000, winning its last four in a row. They were against West Indies (2-0) and Australia (2-1) in 2009 followed by Bangladesh (2-0) and Pakistan (3-1) in 2010. England’s last defeat in a test series at home was against South Africa in 2008.

Since Strauss took over the captaincy from Kevin Pietersen in January 2009 following a turbulent period for the national team, England has won six of eight test series, with one drawn.

The only reverse was the 1-0 defeat to West Indies in early 2009, when England was bowled out for 51 and suffered an innings defeat in the first test at Kingston. The other four tests were drawn.

Since then, Strauss and his team have gone from strength to strength, winning back the Ashes at The Oval in 2009 and then retaining them in Australia. Overall, his captaincy figures are: Played 32; W16, L5, D11. Since taking over the captaincy on a permanent basis, his figures are: Played 27; W13, L5, D9.

Strauss has since stood down as the one-day captain in order to concentrate on his dream of winning the next two Ashes series, in 2013 and 2013-14. His immediate goal is for England to become the No. 1-ranked side in the world. At present, the team is third and Sri Lanka fourth.

Strauss has scored 6,084 runs at 43.14 with 19 centuries and 24 fifties. His record against Sri Lanka is poor, with 156 runs at 31.20 from three tests, with a top score of 55. He scored 307 runs at 43.85 in the most recent Ashes series.

His replacement as one-day captain will be fellow opener Alastair Cook and together they have made a formidable partnership. They have scored more runs together than any England opening pair, adding 3,776 at 44.42 from 50 tests. They have made 10 century stands and 15 fifty partnerships in their five years together.

Cook was out of form last summer but kept his place in the team. The selectors’ faith was repaid in Australia. He scored 766 runs at 127.66, with three centuries and two fifties. He spent 2,171 minutes (36 hours, 11 mins) at the crease, which is unrivaled in any five-match test series.

It looks as if nine of the players who started the series-clinching victory in the fifth test in Sydney will play, with middle-order batsman Paul Collingwood retired from test cricket and pace bowler Tim Bresnan injured. Their replacements in the squad are Eoin Morgan and Stuart Broad, who withdrew midway through the Ashes series with a stomach injury. Fast bowler Steven Finn is the likely 12th man.

At the most recent meeting between the two teams, Sri Lanka batsman Tillekeratne Dilshan bundled England out of the World Cup at the quarterfinal stage with a breathtaking 108 off 115 balls. He has since taken over the captaincy and decided on a new image as a result, taking out his earrings and removing the highlights from his hair.

Dilshan is Sri Lanka’s 12th test captain and takes over a much-changed test team from those of recent years. Offspinner Muttiah Muralitharan retired from test cricket 10 months ago, having taken his 800th test wicket, while fast bowler Lasith Malinga has also quit the test scene to ensure his fitness for limited-overs internationals. Allrounder Angelo Mathews is injured.

Sri Lanka has been a test nation since 1982. It has won 18 tests away from home but only one without Murali, against Pakistan in Faisalabad in October 2004.

Of the 18 wins from 97 tests abroad, 10 have come on the subcontinent and three in Zimbabwe. The remaining five include two victories in England, at The Oval in a one-off test in 1998 and at Nottingham in 2006. The latter secured a 1-1 series draw. Muralitharan took 16 wickets in the victory at The Oval and 11 at Trent Bridge.

Sri Lanka may struggle to take 20 wickets in a test match this series, although an unusually dry spring may assist their spinners.

In contrast with Strauss, who will have two newly appointed captains in his side in Alastair Cook and new Twenty20 skipper Stuart Broad, Dilshan has two veterans alongside him in former captains Mahela Jayawardene, who has 15 wins from 28 tests in charge and 9,527 runs, and Kumar Sangakkara, who led the team to five wins from 14 tests.

Head to head

Overall: Played 21; England 8, Sri Lanka 6, 7 draws.

In England: Played 10; England 5, Sri Lanka 2, 3 draws

Sophia Gardens, Cardiff

The only test to have been played at Cardiff was the first test of the 2009 Ashes series: England 435 (Kevin Pietersen 69, Mitchell Johnson 3-87) and 252-9 (Paul Collingwood 74) drew with Australia 674-6 declared (Ricky Ponting 150, Marcus North 125 not out, Simon Katich 122).

England was 228-8 at the start of the final hour on the fifth day, still 11 runs behind. After Collingwood was dismissed, James Anderson and Monty Panesar added an unbroken 19 in 40 minutes off 69 balls for the 10th wicket to save the match.

In three county games this season, 24 of the 83 wickets taken by bowlers have fallen to spinners.

Players to watchEngland

Eoin Morgan had only played one first-class innings since August 2010 before he played for England Lions against Sri Lanka at Derby last week. In that innings, which came in December during the Ashes series, he scored 6 against Victoria. Yet he forced the selectors to pick him ahead of Ravi Bopara by scoring 193 off 226 balls at Derby, a knock which featured 30 fours and five sixes. He had returned from the Indian Premier League, where he had been opening the batting with South Africa’s Jacques Kallis for Kolkata Knight Riders.

Sri Lanka

Kumar Sangakkara retired as captain at the end of the World Cup after Sri Lanka was beaten in the final by India on April 2. Mentally tough, he was a player whose batting average improved massively when he became captain. In 14 tests as captain, he scored 1,480 runs at 70.48, with six centuries and four fifties. Overall, his figures read 8,244 runs at 57.25, with 24 centuries and 34 fifties from 94 tests, including 100s against all the test nations.

Milestones

Stuart Broad, 24, needs one wicket to become the second-youngest player to take 100 wickets for England after Ian Botham, who was 23 years and 255 days when he achieved the feat.

Tillekeratne Dilshan needs 10 runs to become the ninth Sri Lankan player to score 4,000 runs.

Tharanga Paranavitana needs 37 runs for 1,000.

Dilhara Fernando needs 10 wickets to become the fourth Sri Lankan to take 100 wickets.

Mahela Jayawardene will be 34 on the second day of the first test.