On the up, England can show progress in series vs. Sri Lanka
After winning in South Africa, England's test team can show how much progress it has made in a three-match home series against Sri Lanka to start its summer season.
England's achievement in knocking South Africa off the top of the test rankings at the beginning of the year makes it obvious that Alastair Cook's team is favored to win against the touring Sri Lankans.
Compared to England's eye-catching victory in South Africa, Sri Lanka has lost four of its last five series and goes into the opening test at Headingley on Thursday without injured seam bowler Dhammika Prasad, a hero for the Sri Lankans the last time they toured England.
England has a major absence of its own: It'll be the team's first test since batsman James Taylor's shock retirement from all cricket because of a heart condition.
James Vince is expected to replace Taylor in the middle order and make his debut in the series opener, but other than that enforced change, England is ready to start the series with the bulk of the team that outplayed the then top-ranked South Africa a few months ago.
The talk in South Africa during that series was that this England unit - with Ashes and South African series wins in the bag - is ready to make its own run for the No. 1 ranking. It starts against the Sri Lankans, although they can call on the memories of a surprise and thrilling series win the last time they were in England in 2014. That contest was won on the second-to-last ball of the final test, also at Headingley.
''There is a bit of revenge to be had,'' England fast bowler Stuart Broad. He also pointed out that the current England team was missing only series wins against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, England's two opponents over the summer.
''It's a great motivation for us as a team that we have seven out of nine test match trophies, but Sri Lanka and Pakistan are the two we don't have,'' Broad said.
For Sri Lanka, there's no Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, with the two batsmen who so often carried their team's fortunes retired. Prasad, who bowled Sri Lanka to its historic first series victory in England at Leeds two years ago, is also missing for at least the first test with a shoulder problem.
But Angelo Mathews captains a team that still has plenty of survivors of that Headingley moment.
''We did well here. We were thrilled with that, but this is a new series,'' opening batsman Kaushal Silva said. ''We have to start all over again. It'll be tough, but we are looking forward to that challenge.''
Still, against Sri Lanka's new-look team, England has the advantage of experience and balance.
Batsman Joe Root is in a rich vein of form, there's a proven fast bowling attack of Broad, James Anderson, and Steven Finn, and allrounders Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali give captain Cook the luxury of backup options. In a sign of his quality, Cook is 36 runs short of becoming the first Englishman, and 12th player ever, to reach 10,000 test runs.
That adds to England's expectations that it will take good memories away from Headingley this time.