Andrew Strauss cited one of the reasons he has decided to give up the captaincy of the England one-day side is to oversee his country's attempt to become world number one in the test rankings. The winter Ashes success was a solid stepping stone in that bid but this summer will be an equally accurate guide as to whether England are capable of overtaking both India and South Africa in the coming months and the new season's first tourists, Sri Lanka, may not be the pushovers most bookmakers have priced them up as.
Their 38-run win against the England Lions last week after being forced to follow-on should have been enough to dispel any thoughts of a walkover for England, even though Sri Lanka will be without both front-line bowlers Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan for the first time in a decade. They still have batsmen of the quality of Tilakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara to plunder the runs and young bowlers Nuwan Pradeep and Thisara Perera will be keen to show they can handle English conditions. Compare the Sri Lankan top order's form to that of Kevin Pietersen, who has averaged less than 40 in the last three seasons and has just returned from yet another operation, and you should understand why England certainly should be bigger than a best 4/9 to win the three-match series with Sri Lanka a best 13/2 and the draw at 9/2 with Sportingbet.
Pietersen, of course, could easily take apart an inexperienced bowling line-up if at the top of his game and is only 9/2 with Coral to finish as England's top batsmen. But it's worth pointing out that the Surrey man has only scored two centuries in 90 innings for his country, fewer than any other regular starter, and he is arguably being picked on reputation rather than form at present. I'd much rather have a bet on Alastair Cook (a general 4/1), in fantastic form in Australia and well rested since, or Eoin Morgan. Any doubts that the Irishman should be included in the test side at Ravi Bopara's expense were firmly put to bed by his blistering first innings for the Lions against Sir Lanka last week and extrabet's 10/1 is only so generous on account of the fact that the layers expect England's top order to get plenty of runs so his chance to shine may be restricted.
With the likelihood of the two teams' batsmen cancelling each other out, this series will probably be decided by the bowlers, therefore, and that's where England should hold the upper hand. Even with Tim Bresnan out injured, England still have six top-notch seamers to choose from as well as the world's best off-spinner Graeme Swann. Despite Sri Lanka's batting prowess, that attack should be good enough to bowl the tourists out twice in at least one of the three tests and a 1-0 England series win looks attractively priced at 5/1 with Boylesports.