How England Dominated Sri Lanka For Asian Glory
On Monday, England completed its 3-0 clean sweep over Sri Lanka in an away Test series in their own backyard! On the fourth day of the third Test at Colombo, England defended the target of 327 by bowling out the fighting host nation batsmen for 284 in their second innings securing a 43 run victory.
Rare series win
For England, it was the first Test series victory in Sri Lanka since 2001 when the gritty Nasser Hussain led his team to 2-1 victory against the host side, staging a comeback after losing the first Test. England's previous Test tour to the island nation was in Mar 2012 which had ended in a 1-1 draw.
Adding to the significance, it was the first series victory in Asia for England since the Indian series of Nov-Dec 2012 when Alastair Cook led his team to a 2-1 series victory in the four-Test series.
Since then Englishmen toured Asian continent three times to play Test series, one each against Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. Summing up their performance in those tours is easy, while they suffered win less drubbing against Pakistan and India, they even conceded a Test for the first time to Bangladesh.
Lucky with Toss but Inconsistent Top Order
England played it right throughout the series in all departments - batting, bowling, and fielding. Even the toss also helped the visitors as their captain Joe Root won it every time he went out in his team blazer. As every toss-winning captain does in subcontinent conditions, he too didn't think twice in opting to bat first.
Even after getting the advantage of batting first, as has been the case for the past couple of years, England's top four struggled to put up a collective solid performance throughout the series.
But there were enough sparks in the form a brilliant 146 by Keaton Jennings in the second innings of the first Test and a quick fire 124 by skipper Root in the second innings of the second Test, both helping England setting up a challenging target for the hosts in their fourth innings.
In the third test at Colombo, Jonny Bairstow playing for the first time in the series came in at No. 3 and scored a superb 110 in the first innings.
Lower Middle Order Clicks
But It was their lower middle order which came in handy in most of the occasions. Debutante Ben Foakes scored his maiden Test century in his debut match itself in the first Test at Galle.
Playing at No. 7 the wicket-keeper batsman scored a calculated 107 and saved blushes for England which were reduced to 103 for 5. Foakes shared useful partnerships with Jos Buttler (for 6th wicket), Sam Curran (for 7th wicket) and Adil Rashid (for 8th wicket) to help his team post a healthy total of 342.
In second innings as well, it was the middle order comprising Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, and Ben Foakes again which gave very good support to centurion Keaton Jennings setting an improbable fourth innings target of 462 for the inexperienced Lankan side.
In the second Test at Kandy, it was again the half-centuries by Buttler and Curran which dragged the England score to 290 in the first innings. In the second innings, centurion Root found an able support in the lower order - first with Buttler and then with Foakes.
In the second innings of the Colombo Test as well, it was again a Buttler and Foakes show, down the order, which set the winning target of 327 for the hosts! Deserving Ben Foakes was adjudged "Man of the Series" award for scoring 277 runs in the series at an average of 69.25.
England No. 11 James Anderson couldn't contribute much with the ball but forged two important last wicket partnerships in the Kandy Test. In the first innings, Curran and him collected 60 runs and in the second he gave company to Foakes in adding 41 precious runs to extend England's lead to 300.
Overall it was a better show from England batsmen who are infamous for struggling in spinning subcontinent conditions. In this series, they showed courage and innovation in their batting against spin, used the sweep and reverse-sweep options effectively to their benefit, and ensured they put up a fighting if not a big total every time they batted.
Spin became a big factor as the series was dominated by spinners who claimed 100 of 116 wickets fallen combining all the innings. It set a new record for the most number of wickets in a three-match Test series.
The spin troika of Adil Rashid, Jack Leach, and Moeen Ali accounted for all but one wicket (which was claimed by part time spinner captain Joe Root himself) in the Kandy Test. This is a rare feat from English spinners. They had the lion share of 16 wickets and 14 wickets as well in the first and third Tests respectively. This was direct in contrast with the previous series in India two years back when their spinners struggled to pose a question to the Indian batsmen.
Number wise, this series victory might be scoring over the previous series victory of 2001 for England. But those who have followed that series might easily hold it higher than this because it had come against the side which had the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda De Silva, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumara Sangakkara, Marvan Atapattu, Chaminda Vaas, and Muttiah Muralidharan in their peak in its ranks.
Nevertheless, in the current circumstances where every Test team is struggling outside home, this series victory holds significance for Englishmen. Though Sri Lanka might not be the same strong team which it used to be a few years back, barring India, no team had handed a whitewash defeat to the Lankan team at their home in this decade. Also, it would be the first away series victory for Root and his boys since early 2016. Well played, England!