England’s Luck Overseas Finally Turns

The prospect of watching England overseas normally fills one with dread. It’s an exercise in waiting for the wheels to fall off – which normally only takes a wobble or two. This time, however, it was different. And that’s because this England team is different. We might not be the best team in the world, and talk of becoming the best team in the world is a little farfetched, but at least we’re finally a proper team away from home.

What I mean by this is that England finally have a plan. In days gone by we might have picked three seamers and two spinners at Galle, and then persisted with them all series because nobody had the guts to drop established names like Stuart Broad. This time, however, we weren’t afraid to be bold and pick a unique team for the conditions.

The strategy of picking 3 spinners and playing positively with the bat was the right one. Yes I worry we still get a little overexcited sometimes – Joe Root looks a bit like the Andrex puppy so it’s not entirely surprising – but at least there was clarity, and it prevented us from getting bogged down with the bat and panicking like we have in the past. It would’ve been easy to retreat into our shells after the first innings debacle at Galle, but we kept playing to our strengths. Bravo.

The other reason why England look like a proper team now is that the spirit looks very good. We’ve finally got a good bunch of lads who seem relatively humble and enjoy each other’s company. What’s more, Joe Root seems to be improving as a leader. One wonders whether he feels able to express himself more now that Alastair Cook, who was something of a deity, has now moved on. The other factor, of course, is that Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad didn’t appear as a pair all series. Root was therefore clearly in charge.

The stars also aligned perfectly for England in this series. Whereas some have depicted Trevor Bayliss as something of a liability in recent times, his previous experience as Sri Lanka’s head coach was hugely beneficial in this series. Few people know the local conditions, and the strengths and weaknesses of Sri Lankan cricketers, more than England’s Aussie. One suspects old Trev was absolutely vital in creating an effective game plan and ensuring England balanced their XI correctly. The squad selected by Ed Smith was also spot on – we said we really liked it at the time – so the management always had options.

When I say that the stars aligned I also meant that England got the rub of the green overseas for once. Normally we’re as luckless as Monty Lynch when we leave our green and pleasant land. This time, however, we were extremely serendipitous. The man of the series, Ben Foakes, wasn’t originally in the touring party and only played at Galle because England insist on playing bloody football before play. Talk about good fortune emerging from bad strategy. What’s more, England won all three tosses, which was absolutely huge.

Toss winning teams have won 90% of test matches in Sri Lanka recently. It worth speculating what might have happened if Sri Lanka had won the toss at Kandy and Colombo? The margins of victory were relatively small (approximately 50 runs) in both matches. It would be interesting to ask Bayliss how many runs he thinks the tosses are worth in this part of the world.

One can’t ignore, however, the old adage that team’s make their own luck. Some might scoff but Gary Player once said “the more I practice the luckier I get”. There’s no doubt that England prepared impeccably for this tour. Their fitness was top notch and perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the two game-changing run outs (by Stokes at Kandy and Leach at Colombo) were executed by England players. Although the odd chance went begging in the slips during this series, England generally fielded much better, and with a lot more commitment, than their hosts. Just look at Keaton Jennings’s amazing short-leg catches in this final game. England conjured up moments of individual brilliance just when they needed them.

The other pleasing thing about the tour – and this returns to the team aspect I was talking about above – is that everyone contributed at some point. We don’t have the most consistent cricketers in the world but somehow the XI are collectively doing enough. When the top order fails the lower order dig them out of a hole. And when Moeen and Adil have an off day – they were really disappointing today after bowling so well earlier in the match – Jack Leach comes to the rescue. Yes the team still has holes, and I really worry about the top 3, but it’s difficult to solve all the team’s problems at once.

At the beginning of the summer we lacked an opener, a number 3, a number 5, and a decent spinner. Jos Buttler and Leach have solved two of those problems, and although I don’t fancy Bairstow as a 3 in English conditions, judges shrewder than myself do. I guess time will tell. I’m not sure we’ll get the answer to these questions in the Windies, where the pitches are similarly slow, but at least we’ll probably head into next summer’s Ashes with a few wins under our belt and confidence building.

Finally we should quickly mention Sri Lanka. Although they showed some fight in the second and third tests, overall they looked a poor side that lacked leadership and unity (which is precisely why England won). Whereas everything went England’s way in the series, Sri Lankan cricket looks cursed. Chandimal got injured, Dananjaya was reported for possessing an illegal action, and Mathews was mentally all over the place. Heavens knows what’s going on there. The ECB might do what they can to handicap our test team by banishing the championship to the fringes of the season and focusing on unnecessary white ball vanity projects, but at least they don’t interfere in the running of the side (not since they sacked Kevin Pietersen anyway). I simply couldn’t believe it when I heard that the Sri Lankan minister of sport has to sign off every XI. It’s bizarre.

Before this series began I made Sri Lanka slight favourites. I feel a bit silly for doing this now. Although things might have been different if, for example, Root had got injured rather than Chandimal and Sri Lanka had won all the tosses, England looked the better side and clearly deserved to win.

Overall a 3-0 win away from home is not to be sniffed at – especially by an Andrex puppy – and at the very least England have proved that they’re not totally awful on slow pitches against spin. I don’t think our XI is quite ready to compete in India yet, as Sri Lanka are clearly an average team made worse by the injuries, retirements, and bad fortune they endured, but let’s take things one step at a time. A win is a win. And it sure beats getting hammered.

James Morgan


  • It was great foresight to optimise our spin options. Irony is that Somerset gets criticism for their turning pitch but without that, we’d not have had the benefit of Jack Leach taking so many wickets and being the most cosistent of the 3 England spinners 😀

    • Some people seem to think that spin bowling is cheating – especially if their side can’t bowl it or bat against it properly…

  • Going to play The Moaner here. It’s to do with selection policy. None of the major areas where we needed some greater clarification have been addressed on this tour. So we go to the Windies with no prepared top order, no prepared back up seamers and I also fear Leach maybe the sacrificial lamb on the spin front as he doesn’t bat. We also have a new problem, what to do with Bairstow. His dismissal in the 2nd innings was incredibly soft, especially considering our predicament at the time. I know the Windies are pretty weak, so we may get away with persevering with him at 3 there, but he has a laddish temperament innately unsuited to this responsibility, especially with such an unstable opening pair.
    Mustn’t be too grouchy though as we were pretty damm good as a team out there. Burns certainly deserves persevering with but it must be last chance saloon for Jennings. At least Foakes seems a long term shoe in.
    Well done boys, we’re proud of you!!

  • The one thing we will get in the West Indies that we didn’t see in SL is some pace in the bowling attack. Gabriel and (new man) Oshane Thomas are genuinely quick (145k+), and Roach is a good bowler. Sorry Keaton. I agree with much of what you say here James: I would take Rashid because of his “X Factor”, so the other spinner is between Moeen and Leach.

    As a side issue, I refuse to pay criminals (Sky), so rely on radio for cricket commentary. Why on earth has TalkSport 2 got the winter gig? It’s far worse than TMS, and isn’t even available on Freeview.

    • I haven’t listened to TalkSport as I’ve been watching on the telly. Has anyone got any feedback? I was talking to someone the other night who had given up and reverted to the Cricket Social.

      • Have listened to it in fits and starts, as I am also a TV Viewer mainly. I have found the commentary pretty good there is more information than you would get on TMS and there is zero Vaughan hot takes. So if anything I prefer it

      • The problem is for those of us who like watching test cricket with the TV volume down, using TMS to describe the action. Talk sport is high octane, self opinionated, life is loud stuff and totally incompatible with the considered approach we’re used to. No thinking, just reacting, which suits a footie style audience and can be entertaining in small doses, but 7 hours of it will be tough to take..

  • As Margaret Thatcher said in a different context, just rejoice. Winning in Sri Lanka is always a notable achievement. England should win in the Windies too.

    I don’t pay for Sky either, and you have to wonder at the effect of over a decade of rest cricket missing from free tv.

  • Still questions to be asked about the top order – Burns has looked organised but not set the heavens on fire – is he another Stoneman who battles away but doesn’t make huge runs?

    Have a sneaking confidence about Bairstow, mainly because throughout his test career he’s been doubted and come through. First up it was an inability against pace and he came out and got 90-odd against SA (also got his first ton in SA), then it was his keeping which he worked on so hard to become a more than useful keeper. The technical side isn’t massive so I’d actually back his determination to succeed – plenty of top 3 batsmen have had iffy techniques and succeeded.

    Thought Stokes started to look like his old self again – he showed grit in the summer but probably got the balance wrong as he needs to show positive intent to intimidate bowlers. He also bowled his guts out. He needs a big year to really make sure the output starts to match the reputation. It was self-inflicted but it can’t have been easy being under the cloud he was last year.

    For me the biggest issue is what to do with Curran. His bowling isn’t strong enough to be picked as a bowling allrounder so for me he has to bat in the top 6 to play and I can’t see him displacing either Buttler, Bairstow or Stokes – am I right that he still doesn’t have a first class century to his name? Incredibly harsh, but he needs to bat top 5 for Surrey to make a run at the England side.

    Bowling wise, we didn’t learn anything that we didn’t know, Moeen continues to take wickets, Leach has great control and Rashid is as likely to bowl a match winning spell as a pile of dross!

    As for Root, I think it’s as much him growing into the role as the retiral of Cook.

    • Agreed – Bairstow should be given a run to adapt to batting at three.

      He has consistently demonstrated the willingness and capacity to improve aspects of his game, and I suspect this will be no different. Expecting him immediately to slot into the role without time to adapt is unrealistic – and it’s not as though there are any massively compelling alternatives out there.

      • No one is doubting the talent of Bairstow. You can work on technique till the cows come home but it is his volatile temperament, which, as a dasher, is totally unsuited the the necessarily more considered approach of a no 3. Maybe age will mellow him, but that is years down the line. I never feel he’s really entrenched, he’s another middle order 50 man, like Butler, Stokes and Moin, who has to ride his luck a plenty to make 100. Temperamentally I would sooner see Foakes or Woakes up there, at least they have to be got out. At 3 the most important thing is to stay there and provide a base for the stroke players to build round, not be one of them.
        Even great players like Richards and Lara were most successful at 4, even though they batted a fair amount at 3, as they played shots from the off.

  • Great win for England in the series, but I hope Sri Lanka can somehow bounce back at some point in the future.

    Hopefully Chandimal will be back captaining before too long and whatever the issue with Matthews is will be resolved. I think Karunaratne has lots of talent but I’d love to see him get a few more hundreds. Mendis is another one who falls into the “waiting for the great leap forward” category but obviously he has a lot more time on his side than the likes of Karunaratne and Roshen (who’s a good player too).

    That wicketkeeper is bloody shocking with the reviews also. I think when Chandimal gets back he should ignore the little jumping jack and put someone he trusts at first slip and listen to them.

    • Agree re SL. With Chandimal, the batting looks promising. They competed hard but had one bad session per test which lost them each one.

      Lakmal was a bit of a dead loss as captain and Mathews played well and then kept giving it away. The spinners all looked promising if they could work out a run up.

  • IMO a very fair summary.

    On the rankings, England can go to No.1 if, assuming they win 3-0 in the West Indies, India lose badly (but not too badly) in Australia and are then thumped in NZ. SA could also become a factor if they have a very successful home season although Pakistan look capable of giving them a contest (although one can never be sure with them!).

    Talking of Pakistan, Yasir Shah took 10 wickets today – the most ever in a single day by a Pakistan bowler (overtaking Abdul Qadir and Intikhab who both took nine).

  • Nice to win

    Some good contributions from multiple players

    World class short legging from Jennings

    Wickets were Boring, slow and tbh.. easy to bat on

    SL are a really really dire side and made England’s rather avg bowling look good.

    Buttler’s method to play spin was one of the best displays since Michael clarke and VVS. One to show future players (the feet use, not the sweeping).

    Other than that.. England have no top three and Jennings only proves that he had one good innings agaisnt such opposition and little else.

    Burns given the oppos offered nothing

    Bairstow/stokes/moeen all proved they are no top order batsmen

    Stokes looked like a headloss batting and haiuod have been out so many times but for woeful no balls and catching got lucky.. could easily have avg’d 20’s (again, given the dire oppos)

    Root did ok, buttler ok

    Foakes showed the value of a keeper and it’s grest to see him bat in a test match style.. he does however need to show more consistency with the bat. Good enough to get a WI gig but given SL and WI at epoor sides I’d expect an avg of 40+ without being massaged by a random one off score.

    Curran .. what we learnt.. nothing .. what we knew.. his bowling isn’t good enough to hold a spot and his batti gnisnt either .. very over rated yet again

    Bowling, same old same old.. leech showed he’s more of a spinner than the others but not quite accurate enough, moeeen mercurial without being devestating or economical and Rashid dangerous when batsmen play daft shots but leaks runs if batsmen actually just bat properly against him.. will succeed vs weaker sides or sides who play white ball shots in tests.

    SL.. well.. just god dam aweful. I mean this last test they just gave their wickets away vs very avg bowling and tactics especially from stokes short bowling.. dead wicket, no real pace and obvious tactics.. still get out.. why o why.. such poor cricket

  • I’m also not a huge fan of having Bairstow at three and even with the best will of the player and the management there are only four tests until the Ashes however I prefer this situation to dropping a player of his talent and its fantastic to have a bit of competition for places.

    England will more of a problem balancing the side in the WIs now they are playing five specialist batsmen + the keeper although it looks a more traditional side. Even to have two spinners in they will need to drop to two seamers plus a batting all rounder which is likely Stokes.

  • Being in the ‘keepers union’ allows me to say that Foakes keeping was the best Ive seen since Russell retired! It’s much easier to stand back and dive around, but his footwork was always perfect, allowing his glove work to appear easy…. but it was not easy at all, stood up for hundreds of overs with unfailing concentration. Nothing was missed as far as I know and he was always keeping heads up as well. So his batting was simply a great bonus. I know he’s no ‘slogger’ but I reckon that he should be considered to keep with the white ball as well because he has the technical ability to stand up to anything just like Russell did!

  • The problem with English fans, in my humble opinion atleast, is that they never seem to be satisfied with a win. Long before the start of the series a large number of fans declared their lack of interest due to the poor quality of the opposition. Post-series, I’m still hearing from the same fans, only this time they seem to be rather vociferous in saying that nothing can be gleaned from the result.

    Yes, this was a unique series played in rather unique conditions where spin dominated. And yes, this team may not be suitable against better opponents in different conditions. And yes, Sri Lanka are not the team they once were – I wouldn’t bet my bottom dollar on them – but a series win is a series win. And although the 3-0 scoreline is somewhat harsh on Sri Lanka, who did put up a decent fight in the second and third games, this series will go down in history as 3-0 to England.

    The beauty of test cricket with its ebbs and flows is that the team that wins key moments usually goes on to win the match. Sri Lanka lost all their key moments, they fumbled on the field, their batsmen threw their wickets away, their spinners were below average and they generally lacked direction and leadership, which led them to concede victory to England. But I’ll take nothing away from England; to come to a strange and foreign land (okay, not so strange and foreign considering they hung around for 150+ years ;P), to play in alien conditions in relentless heat and humidity, to overcome tricky turning pitches, bat aggresively, play three spinners and withhold their their seamers, all of which goes against the holy grail of English cricket, and still win, no trounce Sri Lanka, is mighty impressive. For the record, Sri Lanka have never won a test series in England (apart from the one-off match in 1998).

    It is true, England haven’t fully cracked Asia/the subcontinent, and employing the same tactics or personnel against India or Pakistan in their respective backwards is unlikely to be as effective. But the English selectors and Trevor Bayliss should be commended for picking the right players for Sri Lankan conditions.

    Arguably, this same English side will do well in Bangladesh too, due to very similar conditions and similarly weak opposition.

    Going forward, England has a number of high quality problems. A number of players have enhanced their reputation/shown promise on this tour. In that sense this series has given England the opportunity to build a quality test team around a core group of players.

    • Pretty much agree with all of that although Sri Lanka did also win a two test series in 2014 (drew at Lord’s, won at Headingly)
      On that subject there is an interesting comparison – first series after KP’s sacking, lost at home to Sri Lanka – first series after Alistair Cook’s retirement, won 3-0 away to Sri Lanka. OK so the opposition is weaker now but the point still stands.

  • 1-1 in the Oye Hoye Cup!

    14 wickets in the match for Yasir Shah the equal best in Pakistan Test history with Imran (who took his wickets against SL more cheaply).

  • 1) Foakes should replace Bairstow as permanent wicketkeeper
    2) Bairstow should bat in the middle order or not at all
    3) If Root refuses to bat at 3, then we need to play 3 openers
    4) Why did England not play Olly Stone during this series? Express pace would have taken more wickets than medium-pace seam bowling, surely?
    5) Some of England’s fielding was sensational

    • errr……Bairstow just made a ton at 3 – what say we give him a wee run at it.

      It’s 6 years since Strauss retired and we haven’t definitely found a replacement for him, let alone Cook. Shouldn’t we find 2 openers that can definitely fill the opener slots before we find one for number 3 as well?


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