Positive Signs

England have just completed their first warm up game in Sri Lanka. And the good news is that is wasn’t a disaster. In fact, it went rather well. We didn’t win the 3-day game against a Sri Lanka Cricket XI but as a warm-up it ticked most of the boxes.

The first thing to say is that the Sri Lankans put out a reasonable XI. This is always a relief. Some countries deliberately field teams full of kids, has beens, and never wases to make sure that the touring team gets little meaningful practice whatsoever. However, it looks like the Sri Lankans were prepared to take the game relatively seriously. Thanks fellas.

Although the SL XI didn’t include a host of big names, they did select some of their best domestic cricketers, some genuinely talented young players, plus the spinner Malinda Pushpakumara who actually played in the Test series when England toured in 2018. The fact England were able to control the game to a certain extent, and were really never troubled, therefore bodes quite well.

The really good news is that all of our batsmen got some valuable time in the middle with the exception of Dom Sibley (and possibly Keaton Jennings). Even Jos Buttler got some confidence-building time in the middle. The real standout was young Zak Crawley who made a brisk 43 in the first innings and a near run-a-ball 91 in the second. He didn’t enjoy the best of times with the Lions down under so he probably needed a score here. He’s a very talented lad is Zak.

There were also good runs for Pope, who made 77 in the second innings after failing in the first, and Joe Root who made 78 in the first innings but didn’t bat in the second. I doubt anyone is particularly worried about Ben Stokes’s form, but his positive 43 in the second innings shows he’s in decent nick too.

For those of you on Ben Foakes watch, the Surrey keeper made 27 not out and 24 not out. I found it interesting that Buttler batted higher than him in the first innings but Foakes was promoted above Jos in the second. They split the keeping duties. I wouldn’t like to predict who will play in the Test matches at this point.

Sadly the bowlers only had one opportunity to strut their stuff but nobody let themselves down. Broad and Curran bowled economically, Chris Woakes picked up 2-21 in 7 overs, and Saqib Mahmood also took a wicket. Nicely bowled lads. It’s a shame this wasn’t a 4-day game or they would’ve had another chance to stretch their legs tomorrow.

It strikes me that Woakes is at something of a crossroads in his career. He’s just turned 31 so he probably knows this is a key year. it could go either two ways (a) he bowls well, becomes a fixture in the side again, and finally fulfils his potential, or (b) he remains on the periphery and ultimately gets forgotten and replaced by a younger cricketer. I pray he can stay fit because injuries have disrupted his career enough already.

It’s impossible not to admire Woakes. This winter he worked hard on becoming more effective with the Kookaburra ball (something he never really had the chance to demonstrate), and now he’s bravely withdrawn from his IPL contract in order to rest ahead of the English summer. This suggests to me that he’s absolutely determined to give international cricket his all. Fair play to the guy. It can’t be easy leaving £150,000 on the table – the figure he was set to earn at the Delhi Capital Injections.

Perhaps the most encouraging news of the whole game, however, was the performance of England’s young spinners Dom Bess and Matt Parkinson. The former claimed 3-54 in 18 overs and the latter picked up 4-68 in 17.

It’s strange to think that Bess, a 22 year old with just 4 Tests under his belt, now seems to be England’s spin bowling banker. But with Jack Leach suffering all kinds of off-field misfortunes I think he probably is. Thankfully he looks like he’s got the chutzpah to cope with the pressure.

Parkinson, meanwhile, has been under a different sort of pressure. Because he was rarely used in either New Zealand or South Africa, whispers emerged that either the coach or the captain (or both) didn’t rate him. Indeed, he may not have made this trip if Moeen Ali had declared himself available.

Some people believe that Parkinson bowls too slowly to be successful at international level but I’m not so sure. It’s surely way too soon to say this with any certainty. And who says that every leggie has to bowl like Anil Kumble anyway?

Rather than trying to change Parkinson at this point, I think it’s important for him to focus on whatever comes naturally to him. Bowling leg-spin is hard enough without trying to add 5 or 10 mph at the same time. What’s more, I’ve always thought that character, intelligence, variation, and the revs one puts on the ball, are just as important as speed for a slow bowler.

Let’s just see how Parkinson goes before rushing to judgements. Taking 4 wickets in his first game on tour is an excellent start so let’s hope he can build on this. We shouldn’t forget that he’s expected to play a supporting role – like Adil Rashid did in 2018 – rather than leading the attack. I imagine he’s more than capable of doing that if England field three spinners.

James Morgan


  • A very enjoyable read. I’m with you on Zak Crawley. He did very well against South Africa, coming in at 3, which seems to be a hotspot for the young players. I’ll watch his career with interest.

  • Kusal Perera has injured a finger and is out of the First Test (and doubtful for the Second).

  • Excellent post. I was pleased to note that Bess and Parkinson both had fine figures. Personally, given that he has a test bowling average there that if only it were a batting average would be described as Bradmanesque I would not be selecting Broad – with Wood and Archer both out I would be going for Saqib with his extra pace and Curran’s left-handedness as my new ball options, with Bess and Parkinson as specialist spinners plus whatever can be got from Stokes, Denly and possibly Root (skipper please note that I have listed you 7th in order of bowling preference). My XI for the first test would thus be: Sibley, Crawley, Denly, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Foakes, S Curran, Bess, Mahmood, Parkinson.

    • Military medium Curran for Broad? Leave 4-5 balls per over banger Mahmood instead of Woakes? Why not just play an extra couple of bats if you are planning to have the spinners bowl 90% of the overs?

  • Good to see Keaton Jennings carving out a spot as a specialist 8 for sub continental conditions; it all makes so much sense now….

  • Sibley, Crawley (number 3 as soon as Burns returns), denly, root, Stokes, Pope, foakes, Woakes, Bess, broad and a n other spinner (never rashid or ali tho!!!)

    Please no Curran for Christ sake

  • Nice article James. The one point I would make concerns leg spin. Were so used to seeing the likes of Warne and Kumble flip the ball down making it difficult to use your feet, that the thought of a leggie who actually attempts to use flight to get wickets has become something of a rarity to consider.
    Hopefully Parkinson will stay true to his style and not have it coached out of him For the sake of economy. For me leg spinners are about wickets not run rates. Even in white ball I’d rather see figures of 3 or 4 for plenty than 1 for respectability.

  • Sri Lanka are currently a weak test side and there is a significant fall off in quality between their test players and the next level – so the fact that they picked from that next level (instead of an even lower level) does not make the opposition in this match any stronger than a 2nd division county side. I fear that giving Curran the new ball in this game may suggest they are planning the same for the test – that went well in SA. I would leave out Curran, but even if he plays the new ball bowlers must be Broad and Woakes, as the only two test quality seamers in the squad. As for Mahmood; he may become a test player but will need to add some lateral movement and accuracy to pure speed in order to bother good test bats. At present he is no.3 ‘banger’ behind Wood and Stone (both of whom are at least as quick and more accurate). If Brookes is back to 100% he may soon be no.4.

    And please. please. Do not even consider giving Buttler the gloves. He is bad enough keeping to seamers; keeping to spinners on turning wickets it would be equivalent to giving Sri Lanka a 20-30 run start in each innings due to drops and byes (compared to Foakes).

  • I notice that the Test matches are in Galle and Colombo – on the coast; which I recall somebody who had played everywhere in the world saying were the most difficult conditions in world cricket from the POV of heat and humidity.

    Kandy, by contrast, is high in the mountains and more comfortable – but we aren’t playing there. It may be that local conditions explain why Sri Lanka have historically been so hard to beat at home. And maybe the locations of this series’s games suggests that it will be tough to beat SL this time, too – unless the weather turns in our favour?

  • If the wickets are similar to 2018 does anyone else think that the opening bowlers will/should be Stokes and AN Other (IMO probably Woakes)? With the bulk of the bowling done by the spinners – which are likely to be Bess, Parkinson and (if fit) Leach. If Leach is out I would probably select Jennings as an extra batsman (also doesn’t he bowl serviceable military medium?)with Root/Denly splitting third spinner duties?


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