England shine in Sri Lanka under Joe Root…..
Worst travellers? Probably. Great team? Absolutely.
England’s Test woes outside the bucolic comfort of their own country are pathetic, to say the least. While the cricketing fraternity wastes no time in labelling India as poor on the road and Australia as home track bullies, England’s dismal record rarely comes under scrutiny.
To put things into perspective, England’s last Test win away from home before the ongoing series against Sri Lanka came way back in 2016 against Bangladesh. They did not win that series, though, as their victorious cries quickly drowned in the heat of Chittagong as the hosts levelled the series to stun the English.
Their last Test series win away dates back to 2015 when they destroyed a clueless South African side courtesy the belligerent brilliance of Ben Stokes and his squadron.
In the meantime, they lost to India, Australia and the Kiwis. Since the beginning of 2013, England have won a Test series outside home just twice – one in South Africa and another here now in Sri Lanka. Their last Test win before Galle last week came in 2016.
To put things as it is, England hadn’t won a single series away from home for the last three years. The script was supposed to change in New Zealand, where they hadn’t lost a series in 32 years. The Black Caps had their own set of woes against England. They hadn’t beaten England since 1984 at home and since 1999 in any Test series.
One could sense the bubbling excitement in the Barmy Army as the team descended further south from the land where they were smashed to smithereens – Australia.
To state England were embarrassed in Australia would be an understatement. Sure, they didn’t have their dynamic, go-to-man, Ben Stokes, but the issues were far more deep-rooted than one which could have been solved by a flashy all-rounder.
The batting had failed them time and again and the bowling lacked the oomph to penetrate past Steven Smith, David Warner and even Mitchell Marsh. England bowlers sweltered under the hot sun in vain but their batsmen barely needed the sunscreen.
The signs were telling yet the selectors chose to stick by the players for New Zealand.
How wrong were they!
The emergence of Ed Smith, though, has thrown England into the world of data and here numbers rule over reputation. Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Ben Foakes and Jack Leach were all beneficiaries of this system. Each of them played a crucial role as England rolled over the Lankans in their backyard.
“I thought we made a lot of mistakes today with our footwork,” Bayliss had said after England collapsed to Trent Boult in New Zealand. “The ball was swinging a little bit but when the ball’s full, it’s as simple as it gets, you’ve got to play forward. A lot of our guys were out today from behind the crease to fairly full balls. We’ve been on the other side of scores like that and it’s euphoria. This is the opposite.”
At one point it seemed like the lowest Test total was under threat as England grappled around for a hold. Sri Lanka was supposed to be an even bigger threat. But England swept, and swept and swept further. Wickets fell to the sweep, but they had the antidote. Runs came by too and before you knew it, England were dominating the whole series. The only time Sri Lanka were in it, England’s spinners – yes, you read that right! – pulled back the advantage. They choked the hosts and pulled them down at Pallekele in a manner reminiscent of their famous Test series win in India six years ago.
The period after Alastair Cook’s retirement was supposed to be hard. England had no reliable Test opener. Keaton Jennings stepped up proving his fallacies against pace was no obstacle to scoring runs on the slow and low pitches in England.
Joe Root was anchoring the middle-order and Johnny Bairstow did not even have a place in the squad. The young guns all scored and scored quick. The best way to success in the sub-continent is to not let the spinners settle down. England did not let that happen even when wickets fell. They won with and without Rangana Herath in the opposition ranks. They won from difficult and easy situations. They won hours, sessions, days and Tests. With an unassailable lead in the series, they head to the final Test in the series, a dead rubber. And they are leading! Enough said!