Joe Root's side would have been optimistic about their prospects given a 3-0 whitewash victory on their last trip to the island less than 18 months ago, when they claimed their first Test win in five attempts at Galle.
Here, the PA news agency looks at how all five of England's previous visits to the venue have turned out.
Sri Lanka win by an innings and 28 runs, February 2001
Marvan Atapattu was always difficult to dislodge once settled, as England discovered to their cost when the opener compiled a diligent 201 not out spanning 11 hours and 536 balls. Sri Lanka only lost five wickets when the declaration came but a total of 470 was more than enough as England were rolled for 253 and 189, with Marcus Trescothick's maiden Test century the only highlight. However, that drubbing merely set the stage for a remarkable and unforeseen comeback as the tourists prevailed in Kandy and Colombo to claim a famous 2-1 series victory.
Match drawn, December 2003
England were always playing catch-up after Muttiah Muralitharan took a wrecking ball to their batting line-up with a haul of seven for 46 in the first innings. On a raging turner, the vaunted spinner took four more wickets after the tourists had been set an unlikely 323 for victory. But Paul Collingwood marked his Test debut with 36 from 153 balls in a resolute knock which would become his calling card and Ashley Giles held out for a further 107 deliveries before he and last man Matthew Hoggard walked off as the final four overs were lost to bad light. However, another stalemate in Kandy was followed by a thrashing in Colombo as Sri Lanka had the last laugh.
Match drawn, December 2007
At a ground where he finished with an average of 70 and amassed seven of his 34 Test tons, Mahela Jayawardene was at his stylish best in amassing an unbeaten 213 as Sri Lanka declared on 499 for eight. A shellshocked England were skittled for 81, with only three batsmen reaching double figures but one of them in Alastair Cook led the rearguard in the follow-on. Some stout defence particularly against Muralitharan and some nuggety shots off the back foot carried the left-hander to his seventh Test hundred a few days before turning 23. Sri Lanka, though, were never in danger of surrendering a 1-0 lead and duly wrapped up a series triumph with a draw here.
Sri Lanka win by 75 runs, March 2012
England rued another tour de force from Sri Lanka captain Jayawardene, whose 180 trumped James Anderson's five-for. Spinners Rangana Herath and Graeme Swann then traded six-wicket hauls which left England requiring 340. They were on course for a record pursuit at 233 for four, thanks to Jonathan Trott's 112, but collapsed to 264 all out as Herath took another six wickets to hand England, then the number one Test side, a fourth straight defeat. But Kevin Pietersen went on the rampage a week later in Colombo to help seal a 1-1 series draw.
England win by 211 runs, November 2018
There was a familiar sinking feeling when England lurched to 103 for five on the first morning but Test debutant Ben Foakes prospered where his more experienced team-mates failed, registering a superb 107. After Moeen Ali, Jack Leach and Adil Rashid subdued Sri Lanka's batsmen, Keaton Jennings swept and reverse swept his way to 146 not out, leaving the hosts a notional 462 for victory. England's three frontline spinners once again combined to give the tourists a historic success in what was Herath's international swansong, while further victories in Kandy and Colombo led to an unprecedented whitewash win.