After just under 3 years of waiting, England have themselves a series win on overseas soil. The second Test in Kandy last week saw Joe Root’s men seal a series victory in Sri Lanka for the first time in 17 years, and we were well and truly entertained throughout. The hosts improved, and that led to a competitive, hard-fought five (well, four and a bit) days of Test cricket.
The obvious place to start is with the visitors’ skipper, and much has been made over the past few days of this being “Joe Root’s team”. Exactly what people like Michael Vaughan mean by that, it seems, is clear: Root’s picked the team, he’s picked the way he wants that team to play, and the players are listening to him. He spoke before the series about the need to be positive in these conditions and the players have responded with a run rate in the high 3s throughout these two Tests as well as two entertaining, positive games. It seems to be working, too, if six wins in the last seven Test matches is anything to go by.
It’s not just behind the scenes that Root has found success this week, though. While some have questioned his tactics in the field, arguing that they were too negative at times, the way he led from the front with the bat was crucial to the game’s outcome. He conceded it may have been his best hundred for the national side yet, and it’s easy to see why that’s been said. With the game finely poised (England’s lead just 31 with 8 second-innings wickets intact), he delivered a counter-attacking masterclass as he made 124 from 146 balls and gave England a crucial lead. It’s also worth remembering that he made the runs against bowling that, aside from Lakmal’s innocuous 4 overs, was formed entirely of England’s long-standing nemesis: spinners in the subcontinent. Okay, so there was no Murali this time, but plenty of England sides in the past have come unstuck against similar bowlers.
The sweep shot
Joe Root wasn’t the only man to lead the line with aggressive, yet effective, batting. A clear tactic to try and sweep Sri Lanka’s spinners off their lengths was employed from ball one by all eleven of England’s batsmen. They continued to do so throughout the game, too, even though almost half of their wickets fell to the shot in one way or another. A fair few pointed to that stat both during and after the game and used it to criticise the move. What rubbish.
People seem to have an issue with sweeps, and they definitely have an issue with reverse sweeps. I do, too, if they’re used at the wrong times and by the wrong players. This was not one of those times, though. On turning pitches, it’s as good an option as a drive is back in England. Essentially, the only real difference between the sweep and a tentative prod forward is that the sweep will get you runs – you’re just as likely to get out playing either. Cast your minds back just over a decade and you’ll remember a few occasions where England tried, unsuccessfully, to bat out for draws overseas (New Zealand and Sri Lanka, 2007-2008). The problem then was that very few players could successfully block their way to success, with Paul Collingwood the obvious exception. Nothing has changed, either; it’s incredibly difficult to prod forward or back and get away with it when the pitch turns as much as it does in Sri Lanka, and so the sweep shot can’t really be regarded as any more risky than either. It’s different to what we see in England, but that doesn’t mean we should start raising our eyebrows and looking for problems. Out in Sri Lanka, it’s the equivalent to a glorious cover drive.
Once again, the pressure was on England’s spinners to deliver. Once again, they did. Overall, the triumvirate that performed so well in Galle didn’t actually bowl as consistently here but were still good enough to win the tourists the series. A few more “four balls” were served up, and the odd session saw a lack of control threaten to destabilise things, but all three chipped in again with important wickets at important times. Leach led the line this time, while Moeen yet again produced the goods in the fourth innings. Rashid was fairly inconsistently inconsistent, but he also produced a series of magical deliveries that almost justified his place in the side on their own. They should also continue to improve, the more success they have. Moeen and Rashid have had well-documented troubles away from home, so the fact that they’re winning Test matches for England on the subcontinent will give them a huge confidence boost. Confidence is exactly what these guys need if they’re going to perform all around the world.
As with the first Test match, we continued to update our Instagram followers with the goings-on of the Barmy Army through our “Barmy Brekkie”, while you can also find all of our podcasts elsewhere on our website. Keep your eye on both throughout not just the third Test, but next year’s tour of the West Indies as well.
Enjoy the win!
After suffering somewhat on the road in recent times, let’s take the opportunity to enjoy these two outstanding victories. We’ve won in Sri Lanka for the first time since 2001, and we’re in a good position to make it 3-0 on Friday. Re-watch the highlights and immerse yourself in every ball of Joe Root’s batting masterclass as you count down the days until Friday.