England started their momentous year of Test cricket in the best way possible. A comfortable (in the end!) victory was made even sweeter by Joe Root’s incredible solo effort and the wicket tallies of the spinners.
Yes, Sri Lanka’s first innings effort left a lot to be desired, and yes, a few hearts will have been beating a tad harder by the end of the fourth day, but the result and overall performance were extremely encouraging.
Rather than qualify this success, we should look forward to England building on it over the coming weeks. There were signs as the Test wore on of Dom Bess and Jack Leach finding rhythm, and there is every reason in the world to believe that England can deliver again in the second Test.
Here’s our preview of the second instalment…
One of the criticisms levelled at Joe Root over the past 12 months or so has concerned his conversion rate. That is certainly a little surprising, given how impressive his numbers have remained despite a slightly leaner run, but there was never any doubt that England’s skipper would come good.
After an almost-perfect Test match for Rooty, we’re backing him to continue that form as the year goes on. With him at the helm, England are in the best position they could hope for. His skills as captain have improved consistently since his appointment, while he remains one of the best batsmen in the world. It would take a brave punter to bet against those Barmy Army stickers being raised a few more times before the end of the India series, anyway…
Rotation, rotation, rotation
With so much cricket to be played over the next 12 months, there is more cause than normal for rotation in the bowling department. Bess and Leach will obviously retain their places, but expect Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, and potentially Sam Curran all to have their feet up until India.
Jimmy Anderson and Olly Stone may well come in, while Chris Woakes’ inclusion for Sam Curran could complete a trio of changes.
The batting line-up will remain the same barring any last-minute test results but it makes complete sense for the quicker bowlers to be monitored carefully. Fast bowling in Sri Lanka is a perilous and often thankless task and England have the players waiting in the wings to successfully replace those who performed so well last time out.
Perhaps the only question concerns the number of seamers versus spinners. Despite Broad’s outstanding efforts last week, it quickly became clear that the track did not offer much to the seam-bowling department; England may elect to select a third spinner for the second Test in place of one of their quicks, but that man would have to come from their pool of back-up spinners. Given the success of the first Test, and Moeen Ali’s continued unavailability, however, there’s a good chance we will see the same balance retained for the second.
If Stone does get the nod, we wish him well after some tough times on the physio’s treatment table. Here’s hoping that the Warwickshire speedster gets the luck he deserves in that department over the coming months.
A tough test
After the first day in Galle, England may have been under the impression that they were in for an easy ride. Sri Lanka folded in their first innings, and their lead was all but whittled away by the time the sun set.
The hosts proved that they are capable of causing England serious problems. A much-improved batting display and a manic mini-session with the ball on the fourth evening will have had the tourists panicking for a time and they will be desperate to maintain those levels from the start of the second game.
If any England fans were under the impression that we’d have it easy until the India series, they will surely understand now that Sri Lanka brings its own very real challenges. We can expect to see Mickey Arthur’s team provide a sterner test this time around.
England (predicted): Sibley, Crawley, Bairstow, Root (c), Lawrence, Buttler (wk), Curran, Bess, Leach, Stone, Anderson
Sri Lanka (predicted): Thirimanne, K. Perera, Silva, Mathews, Chandimal (c), Dickwella (wk), de Silva, D. Perera, Hasaranga, Lakmal, Embuldeniya
Sri Lanka will be better, but so will England. Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley have points to prove at the top of the order, while Bess and Leach have invaluable overs under their belts now.
Provided England can bat as well in their first innings, it will be tough for the hosts to level the series.