A few days have passed since the historic win in Colombo and everyone has moved away from the cricket but it’s time for reflection on the test series before it fades into the memory.
England’s series win, and in fact any win in SL against SL, was as unexpected as snow in summer and was the first complete 3-0 series win by England in SL, the third ever in Sri Lanka and England’s first since the early 1960s! The score line suggests complete dominance but I would suggest that this England side has yet to learn how to dominate. It has the nucleus of a very good young side; it is work in progress.
One aspect which was pleasing was the noticeable improvement in Root’s captaincy. A lot has been written about the absence of either Broad or Anderson in each test as they are known to be dominant characters and also the absence of Root’s ex-boss, A Cook, from the side. I think there is an element of truth but there are other strong characters in the side but Root seems to have learnt lessons well and developed. Captaincy is more than leading your side; as Mike Brearley so excellently describes, it’s about man-management as much, if not more, as the game itself. Only the great captains have the ability as leaders to do both well.
At 103/5 at lunch on Day 1 in Galle, things looked grim and rain dances were planned (it never did arrive and were not needed anyway), but Ben Foakes strode to the wicket in his first test innings. He was not even picked in the original squad (what odds would I have got in September for Foakes to be the top scorer in the 1st innings in Galle?) but his journey to the Man of the Series winning role was about to begin. His century was both match winning and series turning. The adage of adding two wickets to the score when batting (and now adding 20 runs) would have made England 123/7 and where would they go from there? But no..Foakes stood resolute and batted like a champion, straight and true and eschewing the sweep or slog-sweep which had been the undoing of the side that morning. SL never got back into the series from that point onwards, but they had their chance time and time again.
But in the second test at Pallekele, England were 225/9 and ready to bowl but SL let them off the hook as England made another 60 plus runs – the margin between the teams when the outcome was made on Day 5. If only, Sri Lanka had taken that wicket sooner?
In the third test SL had even more chances to strike for a win but no; ok, England had the rub of the green and SL wasted their reviews (more later) and won by 42 runs but if…
- SL had not collapsed like they did in the first innings – 9 for 67?
- Had batted better in the second innings at the end of Day 3 when no one showed much, if any, application?
- Mendis had not run himself out on 86 when well set?
- Not bowled 40% of one bowlers deliveries as no balls – they had to dismiss Stokes three times (and he made 42)
- Could have squeaked a win towards the end of Day 4 when England were playing the man not the game (trying too hard to get Moeen his fifth wicket)?
If any of those, then….but it’s on such fine margins as these that the game at international level turns. Neither side had the true killer instinct (Australia and SA for two teams would not necessarily have acted that way) so they each need to progress.
A good series – the cricket quality was what it was and the games twisted and turned. It was all great fun but England had more luck. Both sides failed to ram home advantages when they needed to; SL are a team in transition but are making progress as they try to replace some true greats of the game. England have a range of challenges to address before they can really dominate and need to progress as the Ashes loom. So what are they?
- Openers – need a solution to find a replacement for Cook (actually we’re still looking for a replacement for Strauss); Burns needs a run but has potential. Jennings scored a century in Galle, was an excellent fielder but did little else. Is he another ‘thrives better overseas player’?
- At number 3 – ideally Root but he sees himself at #4. Numerous options have been tried but could Bairstow or Buttler be the answer? One of the keepers in the side needs to progress to a test class batsman and either of these could do that.
- And the wicket keeper? Has to be Foakes – there is no better glove man in world cricket
- Which spinner?
- And who replaces Broad and Anderson in the next few years? They can’t go on for ever!
And finally…umpiring! The team in SL and in Colombo in particular were not great, Kandy was sketchy and Galle ok; no balls were not being called – why? The DRS reviews saw mistake after mistake (I’m not forgetting the skill needed at this level, the concentration needed nor the extremes of heat and humidity) so how about a change?
Change the DRS system to an umpire generated request system – on the lines seen and used successfully in Rugby Union and elsewhere? Take the request out of players hands, the numbers would not be restricted to two per side per innings but simply in the judgement of the umpires – on field and on TV.
But…the issue becomes a change to a fundamental tenet of the game dating back centuries – a batsman can only be given out after an appeal has been made by the fielding side. An umpire generated review system would not do that! But does the game need to change to progress at this level and into new countries and audiences? I doubt if the system can or will be changed; DRS has now become so embedded and my suggestion could be regarded as going backwards…but don’t the ICC need to take a look or review the review system or at the very least tell umpires to call no balls!
In conclusion, will England dominate and win the Ashes next summer? They are now #2 in the world rankings but at this juncture Australia and others have not started their summer test season in earnest. Australia seem to be in ‘chaos’ or free fall or are they? England will probably win 3-1 next summer but that’s a long way off. This series has proved that England (and test teams) can win away and this team will be truly regarded as a great team when they win the Ashes Down Under but that’s not until 2021/2!