The worst-kept secret in cricket was confirmed when Bairstow was named in the 16-man squad for the games that will take place behind closed doors in Galle next month. Bairstow had already pulled out of his Big Bash League contract with Melbourne Stars to pave the way for his return.
The 31-year-old is one of three Yorkshire players in the squad along with Test captain Joe Root and off-spin bowler Dom Bess, and Bairstow will be hoping to make his first Test appearance since the Boxing Day match against South Africa in Cape Town last year.
England have rested pace bowler Jofra Archer and all-rounder Ben Stokes, the latter having just lost his father, Ged, after a battle with brain cancer.
Both players are set to return for the subsequent tour to India.
Opening batsman Rory Burns is also left out, with the Sri Lanka series clashing with the birth of his first child.
There is a call-up for Essex batsman Dan Lawrence, and the squad will be buttressed by seven reserves owing to the need for Covid cover.
England will leave for Sri Lanka on January 2 and undertake four days of training and preparation in Hambantota from January 5 ahead of the first Test on January 14. The second Test starts on January 22, and the squad will move on to India on January 27.
Bairstow, who has played 70 Tests, which have brought him 4,030 runs, six hundreds and 197 wicketkeeping dismissals, has fond memories of Sri Lanka.
He scored a hundred on his only previous Test appearance there in 2018, batting out of position at No 3. It remains to be seen where he will bat this time, with that slot potentially vacant again if Zak Crawley moves up to open in Burns’s absence.
Also back in the fold is spin bowler Moeen Ali, who took an extended break from Test cricket, and wicketkeeper Ben Foakes.
There was never any serious prospect of Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid making himself available for the Tests, despite conversations with England. He is managing a long-term shoulder injury.
Rashid will be a vital part of England’s plans for the T20 World Cup later next year.
Squad: J Root (c), M Ali, J Anderson, J Bairstow, D Bess, S Broad, J Buttler, Z Crawley, S Curran, B Foakes, D Lawrence, J Leach, D Sibley, O Stone, C Woakes, M Wood.
Reserves: J Bracey, M Crane, S Mahmood, C Overton, M Parkinson, O Robinson, A Virdi.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.