England’s summer of cricket opens at Headingley on Thursday against Sri Lanka with the hosts hoping to lay the ghost of an embarrassing defeat at the Yorkshire venue two summers ago.

A three-Test rubber precludes the visit of Pakistan and hands Alistair Cook’s side a decent examination, but not one of the level of recent summers.

England are almost unbackable in the Series betting with some firms installing them as short as 1-12 to begin the summer in style, while the threat of rain also makes the hosts too short to play in the opening Test. In contrast, the tourists can be backed at 25-1 which, if only on a value perspective, will entice some who remember their 100-run victory inspired by a brilliant 160 from captain Angelo Matthews.

This time round, Matthews will oversee a side with plenty of bowling options but their inexperienced batting, shorn of retired legends Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, may struggle to function and produce substantial totals on lively English pitches.

Sri Lanka were humbled by an Essex schoolboy in their first warm up game and, although they registered two centuries against Leicestershire in game two, the worry remains that if Matthews fails in the middle order, England’s seamers could extinguish the tail swiftly.

The loss of experienced seamer Dhammika Prasad – who ripped England apart two years ago - with a shoulder injury is also a big loss for the tourists’ pace attack whose chief selector Sanath Jaysuriya recently claimed was the top bowling line up in the world.

England, South Africa (when Dale Steyn is fit) and Australia may have something to say about that, especially the former who have drafted exciting Nottinghamshire seamer Jake Ball into the squad.

Ball appears to have added a yard of pace to a repertoire that includes the ability to swing the ball late and gain lateral movement so his inclusion is an exciting one.

With 19 wickets at a little over 21 this season, including that of Joe Root first ball in a recent Championship clash, Ball’s promotion may well have arrived irrespective of injuries to Mark’s Wood and Footitt. While England’s options with the ball look settled their batting line-up, sadly missing James Taylor, is far from set in stone.

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Alex Hales is given an opportunity to nail down the position as Cook’s partner which has proved a poisoned chalice since Andrew Strauss retired four years ago. Hales scored just 136 runs in four Tests on the South African tour and hasn’t batted a great deal since, preferring to freshen up for the summer ahead.

Should Hales fail then Nick Compton could be promoted but his long-term position in the side is far from confirmed with coach Trevor Bayliss preferring a more attacking make up to his side.

Classy Hampshire batter James Vince will have the chance to showcase his talents in Taylor’s absence and will add some grace to the brute force of Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes in the engine room.

At 7-4, the layers are fully aware of Joe Root’s capabilities and he looks too short to play in the top England series batting even if his claims are undeniable after a stellar period around the world in all forms.

Instead, invest in captain Cook whose defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in Leeds two years ago marked the lowest point of his career. The ever-resilient 31-year-old needs just 36 runs to reach 10,000 in Test cricket, a momentous achievement and one which could drive him on to make inroads into the 12,400 recorded by Sangakkara before his retirement. He has been in good form in the build up and the 7-2 on offer looks too big.

It is also about time that England began to erase the memories of some painful defeats at Headingley in recent seasons and with games two and three at Durham and Lord’s, they could well complete a whitewash if the weather stays fair.

Stuart Broad has been the leader of the attack for some time now and could well top the bowling honours so the 9-4 on offer looks a fair play.
England to win the series 3-0 - 1pt @ 2/1
Alistair Cook to be top England batsman in the series - 1pt @ 7/2
Stuart Broad to be top England bowler in the series - 1pt @ 9/4