Joe Root and his England team have managed to do something really special on this tour to Sri Lanka. They have beaten Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, something which no team, except India, has managed to do in the last three years (since Kumar Sangakkara’s retirement). South Africa and Australia were whitewashed while the Windies were brushed aside.
Joe Root’s men have been brilliant on this tour to Sri Lanka. To win a Test series in the island nation for the first time since 2001 is a special achievement.
There are trigger points in life that make you change a lot of things. England have experienced that first hand and in all forms of cricket.
The 2015 World Cup was the turning point for England as far as limited-overs cricket is concerned. They were ousted in the group stage as Bangladesh beat them and qualified for the quarter-finals. They knew something had to change. Well, look at them now. They are the best ODI side in the world and are early favourites for the 2019 World Cup.
England’s Test side was not going anywhere. Though they were winning at home, their team still seemed vulnerable. They hadn’t won a Test match outside England since October 2016. Despite remaining unbeaten at home (series-wise), there were cracks and England constantly lost at least one Test in every series at home.
It had been close to three years since England won an overseas Test series. Last year, they were thrashed 4-0 in the Ashes down under and then they sunk to a new low when they were bowled out for 58 in the first Test against New Zealand in Auckland. They lost a Test series against New Zealand for the first time since 1999.
And there was that trigger for the Test team and Joe Root himself acknowledges it. “It felt like we had a breakthrough moment at the start of the Christchurch Test match. Sort of turned a corner. We had a little blip in the first Test versus Pakistan but since that moment we’ve really gone on an upward curve,” Root said after England won the series in Pallekele.
Since that Test match when they were bowled out for 58, a lot has changed. Though England lost a couple of Test matches at home (one each against Pakistan and India), they’ve managed to do really well. Yes, barring a couple of them, their Test wins at home have been far from convincing but every time they were put under pressure, they found a way, they found someone to bail them out.
But when they boarded the flight to Sri Lanka, there was one aim and that was to correct the shoddy away record. It had been close to three years since England won an overseas Test series. They had unsuccessful tours to India, Australia, New Zealand and they were also beaten by Bangladesh in a Test.
And here they are with a 2-0 lead in the three-match Test series. They’ve countered their biggest nemesis, spin, excellently. They chalked out plans and the batters looked determined as ever. Skipper Joe Root led from the front and backed up all his talk of positive and aggressive intent as he struck his 15th Test century in the second innings of the second Test. And it came when England needed it the most.
England came well prepared for this tour. They had an answer to almost everything Sri Lanka threw at them and even when things didn’t go their way, they stuck to their plans. “It’s very special. The guys have worked extremely hard. We’ve planned very well for it. We said we were going to play in a certain manner and we’ve backed that up completely in the two games. And that’s probably the most pleasing thing. We’ve stuck to our guns,” Root said after England’s series win.
The composition of England’s side is an interesting one. Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid’s inclusion was based on white-ball form. It was a risk England were taking but it has paid off. Keaton Jennings who had a terrific Test debut in India a couple of years ago hadn’t done a lot since then. But he was constantly backed and the backing paid off as well as he finally came good.
The team management took some tough calls as well. Stuart Broad sat out in both Test matches as Sam Curran featured in the line-up. Jonny Bairstow was fully fit for the second Test but England rewarded Ben Foakes for an excellent debut and the former sat out.
However, Root and the team management would’ve been pleased with the way the three spinners operated in tandem. Jack Leach, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid have been brilliant in this series and have complemented each other beautifully. Leach has been a revelation and has provided Joe Root with the control England’s been yearning for from a spinner in subcontinental conditions.
Root and England have played some really attacking cricket, especially with the bat. They’ve taken the attack to the opposition whenever they’ve been put under the pump. They swept their way out of trouble in the second innings of the second Test and that proved to be a game-changing idea.
This is a New England, a team which seems to have a different mindset. Root has taken his time to adjust to the role of a captain of this Test team. He has had his fair share of ups and downs as skipper but he’s shown he is constantly improving.
He now has the vision of making England the No. 1 Test team in the world. It’s a tad too early to jump to conclusions but this has been a brilliant turnaround by Root and co. The future tours to South Africa, India and Australia will have a huge say on how England have shaped up. But for now, this series win in Sri Lanka looks like a big moment.
With the third Test in a couple of days’ time, Joe Root and England have a chance to do the unthinkable. That is, affecting a series whitewash in the subcontinent.