@Yas_Wisden 4 minute read
England kicked off their tour of Asia with a nervy win at Galle, after a first-innings double century from captain Joe Root and five-wicket hauls from spinners Dom Bess and Jack Leach took them to a seven-wicket win over Sri Lanka.
Here are six things the tourists might have taken away from the first Test:
Spinners benefit from overs under their belt
Much has been made about the admirable resolve shown by Jack Leach in bouncing back from a difficult year in which he played very little cricket to claim a five-for in a performance that improved as the Test went on, but it’s worth remembering that this Test was also Dom Bess’ first taste of first-class cricket in over five months, too.
Despite the latter’s first innings five-for, both initially struggled to build any form of pressure but there were signs of improvements as the Test progressed. That they still managed to take 14 wickets between them with so little preparation bodes well for the second Test at the same venue, even if the task they’re likely to face in India next month looks markedly more challenging.
Lawrence prompts potential selection conundrum
Dan Lawrence has long been regarded as one of the most exciting talents in county cricket and since his stellar England Lions tour of Australia in early 2020, a Test debut has seemed a formality. He justified the hype with an impressively assured maiden Test outing in which he looked comfortable on a turning pitch and seemed to relish the heat of the battle when England were reduced to 14-3 in their chase on the penultimate day.
Another solid performance in the second Test – with Rory Burns, Ollie Pope and Ben Stokes set to return to the fold for the India series – would leave England with somewhat of a selection conundrum. Jonny Bairstow looked good in both innings but failed to make the most of his start first time round. Given the lack of pace on show from Sri Lanka – there have not been any recent doubts over Bairstow’s game against spin – you sense that England didn’t learn anything new about the Yorkshireman in this Test.
Out-and-out pace possibly not the way to go in Sri Lanka
Mark Wood really did bowl his heart out at Galle. On a slow surface, the bowled as quickly as he’s ever done for England in Test cricket but didn’t get the rewards that his effort deserved.
It’s been mooted that England might field an entirely different pace attack for the second Test with Chris Woakes, James Anderson and Olly Stone coming in for Sam Curran, Stuart Broad and Mark Wood; a trio of by-in-large like-for-like replacements. But given Wood’s lack of success in the first Test, it may be prudent to field three of Woakes, Anderson, Curran and Broad – or an extra spinner – rather than opt for an out-and-out quick like Stone, given that the little joy their seamers took in the first Test came through utilising the minimal lateral movement in the air and off the pitch, rather than express pace.
Should England really rotate Broad?
Linked to the previous point, should England really be looking to rotate Broad out the side if he’s fully fit for the second Test? Broad was superb, taking 3-20 in the first innings before conceding just 14 off his 17 overs in the second, varying his pace, bowling stump-to-stump and using leg-cutters to keep the Sri Lankan batsmen honest throughout.
Broad and Anderson often get lumped together, but as the former is often at pains to point out, he is quite a lot younger than the latter; in fact, Broad is closer in age to Woakes than he is to his great opening bowling partner. And given how well Broad has bowled over the last year or so – he is arguably enjoying the best period of his career – it’s surely worth keeping him in the side whenever possible.
Perfect start to a big year for Root
2021 will go a long way to defining Root’s legacy both as a player and as a captain. He couldn’t have wished for a better start in the first Test, where he compiled his most fluent Test hundred in at least two years. After his innings, he spoke about the benefits of having time off and how he felt that he regained his rhythm as the crease. Sterner tests will come later in the year, but England’s lofty aspirations look far more achievable if Root can get somewhere near back to his best.
Familiar spin woes return for Sibley
It was difficult Test for England openers Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley as neither reached double figures in either innings. For Sibley in particular, this Test put the spotlight back on his troubles against spinners who turn the ball away from him.
His game against pace is based upon sound judgement around the off stump, but since his debut in November 2019, six of his 20 dismissals have now come against either left-arm orthodox spinners or right-arm leggies, more often than not showing indecision over deliveries honed in towards off stump and just outside it.
To an extent, it’s to be expected. Sibley, parachuted into the England set-up after a year or so of prolific run-scoring for Warwickshire, never toured Asia with England Lions. In addition to his lack of experience in Asia, one of the side effects of the lack of opportunities for English spinners in the County Championship is that English batsmen don’t get a huge amount of exposure to high-quality spin in domestic cricket. Whatever the reasons, with Burns, Pope and Stokes expected to be available for the first Test of the India series, England are likely to leave out at least one top-six batsman who has served them well in recent times. Sibley, who has generally been excellent against the quicks so far in his Test career, could really do with a score in the second Test to assure that he’s not the unlucky one to miss out in India.