The England batsmen executed the sweep shot very well against Sri Lanka……

Unless rain plays a spoilsport at Pallekele on Days 4 and 5, England are well placed to earn a victory not just in the match, but they will also take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the 3-match series. This will also be England’s first series win in Sri Lanka since the Nasser Hussain-led team won the series back in 2001. One of the main reasons for England’s success on the tour so far is the way they have countered the Sri Lankan spinners. They have used the sweep and reverse sweep to good effect and that has fetched them a load of runs. It has also led to the downfall of their batsmen on a few occasions, but that has not prevented them from playing such risky shots.

Test cricket these days is no longer about playing out time, it is about the runs. For that, the batsmen are willing to take risks, that will take them to the target they had in mind before they came out to bat. At Pallekele when England were losing wickets at regular intervals, many teams would have bucked and looked to play out time and go through the session or even the day without losing more wickets. Once we get into the tail, there might be a few slogs. However, England had a different approach. Jos Buttler played a magnificent counter-attacking innings, sweeping and reverse-sweeping at will.

Keaton Jennings who scored a match-winning 146 not out, scored a huge chunk (23 per cent) of his runs through sweeps and reverse sweeps. Jennings is someone, who loves playing the reverse sweep – perhaps as much as Buttler in Tests and Eoin Morgan in ODIs. It is a shot that has fetched him a lot of runs. It is a shot off which he has never been dismissed until the Pallekele Test, where some extra bounce came to Akila Dananjaya’s aid and the ball was hit to slip off Jennings’ glove. While Jennings could not play a heroic innings in this Test, he can be proud of the fact that this was the first time he was dismissed playing that particular shot. He has played 50 reverse sweeps, which have fetched him 77 runs – a terrific percentage.

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Buttler returned to Tests in May 2018 and since then has scored 27 runs playing the sweep, 19 of which had come from that innings. He continued his onslaught even in the second innings. “You live by the sword, you die by the sword” is something that Buttler believes in and it has paid dividends for him and England in this series.

Sri Lankan spinners too have been quite ordinary this series. They have been on the shorter side and have bowled much faster in the air than they should have. England batsmen have been reasonably comfortable against the spinners. Even with Rangana Herath in the first Test, the Sri Lankan bowlers failed to hit the right areas and failed to flight the ball. While the English batsmen were more than happy to sweep slow deliveries outside off, this could also have been an opportunity for the Lankan spinners to get the batsmen out, forcing them to play a false shot.

The sweep shot is something that the England management have clearly spoken about implementing in these conditions. Whether you are playing your first series like Rory Burns or you’re the most experienced batsman in your team like Joe Root, implementing sweep shots was clearly a priority. They have already scored over 200 runs in this series through sweep/reverse-sweeps and with one more Test to play, they are certainly going to score a handful of more runs off those shots.

England also played 81 sweep shots (conventional and reverse) in the third innings, which is the most they have played in a Test innings and those shots yielded 110 runs. Joe Root-led from the front in England’s second innings and played a total of 28 sweeps and 9 reverse sweeps on his way to a 146-ball 124. He attacked 40 per cent of the ball he faced and in all, England left alone just 14 deliveries on Day Three and Root contributed to just three out of his 146 deliveries – staggering numbers indeed. They also scored at a run-rate of 4.26. Coming back to Root, out of the 37 sweeps he played overall, only 5 resulted in dots.

Herath has left a huge gap in Sri Lanka’s spinner’s department and they have to find a way to collectively replace the man who took 433 wickets for them. For now, their performance has been lukewarm, barring moments of brilliance now and then. But, it eventually comes down to skill as well. England spin trio of Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Jack Leach have exploited the surfaces in the series much better than their counterparts and have tasted success. They have flighted the ball much more than the Sri Lankans and more importantly, they have not been afraid to go for runs as long as they pick up wickets. Sri Lanka clearly did not have that strategy. They spread otu the field early on Day One and eased the pressure on the batsmen to knock it around for ones and twos.

At the same time, England’s risk also paid off. They have perhaps played sweeps and reverse-sweeps more than any series in the recent past and have executed it extremely well. They have used the conditions and their resources much better than Sri Lanka, that too in their own backyard. Root has had a few series wins as captain in the recent past, but none will be bigger than a series win in Sri Lanka. England certainly deserve a pat on the back for their effort.

(Stats provided by Cricviz)

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