This post looks back at the test match just concluded in Galle. Another such game reaches its denouement in Brisbane tonight, and if weather permits it should be a cracking finish.
ENGLAND GO 1-0
UP IN THE SERIES
Both teams arrived for this match not so much ‘underdone’ as ‘completely raw’, due to scheduling issues. Sri Lanka slumped to 135 on the first day, with Bess emerging with five wickets for a rather patchy bowling performance. Both England openers then fell cheaply, Sri Lanka’s decision to give the new ball to Embuldeniya with his left arm spin paying off in spades, but Root and Bairstow took England to the close, within sight of a first innings lead. Bairstow was out first thing on day 2, but Dan Lawrence on debut batted like a veteran, making 73, and providing Root with superb support. By the close England were 320-4 and seemingly headed for a monster lead. Buttler fell early on the third morning, triggering a collapse that saw England all out for 421, Root 228, a lead of 286 when at one stage 400+ seemed likely. Sri Lanka dug in and fought hard in their second innings, with both spinners, Bess and Leach, bowling better than they had first time around, Wood bowling quick when he was used, Curran sometimes making things happen and Broad bowling almost as economically as his Notts and England predecessor Alfred Shaw did in the early days of test cricket. Just before the end of the fourth day Sri Lanka were all out for 359 leaving England 74 to get.
The start of the England innings resembled a flashback sequence as the openers Sibley and Crawley both fell cheaply to Embuldeniya, who looks a real find for Sri Lanka. Then Bairstow made a greedy call for a run and succeeded in stitching up his skipper, and that was 14-3, and the possibility of a history making collapse loomed. In 1882, in the match that spawned The Ashes, England were set 85 in the fourth innings and ended up all out for 77, losing by seven runs. It seemed that present day England might be about to choke on an even smaller target. Dan Lawrence joined Bairstow, and they saw England through to the close at 38-3. The fifth day started on time, and with the same two spinners, Embuldeniya and Perera taking up where they had left off. In the event, 35 minutes play was sufficient for England to get home without further loss. The only alarm was a close LBW shout, turned down, and had Sri Lanka sent it upstairs they would have had a wicket. In the event it was Bairstow who made the winning hit, when it would have been more fitting for it to have been Lawrence.
Had Sri Lanka been able to completely dry up England’s scoring (in the great 1882 match Spofforth and Boyle at one point bowled 17 overs for one run) they may have induced serious panic, but England were always able to keep the scoreboard ticking, and in the end the margin was very comfortable.
Sri Lanka can take great credit for fighting back hard enough to take the game into its fifth and final day after they performed so awfully on the first two days. For England the big pluses were Joe Root rediscovering how to go seriously big and Dan Lawrence playing so well on debut, while young Embuldeniya may yet develop into a worthy successor to Muralitharan and Herath. Sibley and Crawley need to improve their approach to spinners, otherwise every test skipper will be tossing the new ball straight to a spinner to get a couple of early scalps. If England’s spinners produce some of the stuff they did in this game when they come up against India they will get absolutely destroyed, but it was good to see both improve considerably as the match went on.
PLAYER RATINGS & STAY/GO
In this section I rate the performances of the England players and offer my opinions about who should stay and who should go.
- Dom Sibley – 2/10. Twice fell very cheaply to Embuldeniya and never looked comfortable in either innings. He stays – one bad match should not get someone the chop, but he does need to work on his handling of spin.
- Zak Crawley – 2/10. My comments about Sibley apply equally to him, although he has demonstrated that he can play spin well later in an innings, if he manages to get in against pace.
- Jonathan Bairstow – 6/10. A solid 47 in the first innings and after running the skipper out in the second he did well to see England home. I would not personally have recalled him to the test squad, but I see little point in dropping him at this juncture and having a newcomer at no3 for the second game of a two game series.
- Joe Root – 10/10. His mammoth 228 utterly dominated the England first innings, he also took several catches in the field, and handled his bowlers well as captain. He will need to demonstrate that his rediscovered ability to go seriously big works against the likes of India and Australia as well as against a very weak Sri Lanka, but he could not have done much more here.
- Dan Lawrence – 9/10. When a batter reaches 73 they should be able to complete the ton, and that is the sole reason the debutant does not get full marks. He played a fine first test innings, and showed great composure when England were rocking in the final innings. He definitely stays, and it looks like England have found a good one.
- Jos Buttler – 5/10. his first innings dismissal marked the start of a collapse, and he was not needed in the second innings. He kept competently other than missing a stumping in the second Sri Lankan innings. However, with spinners so much to the fore, both in Sri Lanka, and later on in India, as far as I am concerned he goes, as England need their best keeper, Foakes.
- Sam Curran -6/10. He made things happen with his bowling on a couple of occasions. For me he stays, but I have sympathy for those who would replace him with Woakes. I regard his left arm as a potentially valuable variation.
- Dom Bess – 6/10. Eight wickets in a match sounds like a great performance, but the truth is that most of his five first innings wickets were given rather than being taken, and that even in the second innings when he bowled better there were two many loose deliveries from him. He stays, but only because, on what I am expecting to be the ultimate in turners I go with three spinners, with him being in a bowl-off for the role of Leach’s spin partner with the third spinner – and starting that race from behind due to his patchy recent form.
- Jack Leach – 7/10. The left arm spinner was understandably rusty at first, but by the end he was bowling very well, and his five second innings wickets were just reward for a fine effort. He stays, his position as England’s #1 spinner confirmed by his performance here.
- Mark Wood – 7/10. Sensibly used by his skipper only in short bursts he was always quick, averaging around the 90mph mark, and in conditions that offered him nothing he did very little wrong. Nevertheless, I would leave him out to accommodate Parkinson who will be in a bowl-off with Bess for the second spinner’s slot.
- Stuart Broad – 8/10. The veteran took three wickets in the first innings, and although he went wicketless in the second, his extreme economy, reminiscent as I have said of Alfred Shaw, helped to create pressure, which created wickets for other bowlers. He stays, moving a rung up the batting order given the inclusion of Parkinson.
England should make it 2-0 on Sri Lanka (the second game gets under way on Friday), but will need to improve to compete effectively with India, who have shown immense determination to take their series in Australia right down to the wire, and then at the back end of this year comes the toughest assignment of all for an England team – Australia in Australia. Lawrence looks a huge find, and with Pope due to return for the India series, Burns back in the reckoning before too long and Bracey waiting in the wings, concerns about Sibley and Crawley against spin notwithstanding the batting looks good. In conditions where out and out speed is of the essence Archer will soon be available as well as Wood, with Stone waiting in the wings. Seam and Swing are always England’s strongest suits, and with no sign of Anderson or Broad leaving, Woakes and Curran about, and Ollie Robinson in the wings that area remains strong. Spin remains a concern, although Leach is looking good, while in Australia I would expect Parkinson, the leg spinner, to fare better than Bess, for another reason I want him to get some test experience in before that tour starts. It is also possible that younger spinners such as Virdi, Moriarty and Patterson-White could be contenders. Finally, there remains the gamble which some would consider heretical of giving Sophie Ecclestone a bell and asking if she fancies having a go alongside the men.
My usual sign off, with the addition of an infographic about the ratings and stay/go section: