Sri Lanka v England, 1st Test Day 2 – Spin Triplets

I wonder what the odds were before the game began of England being in such a dominant position at the halfway stage of the game. Probably about the same as the first two days being completely uninterrupted by rain.

The day began with yesterday’s hero Ben Foakes on 87 runs with just two tailenders left as partners. He scored another 8 runs before Jack Leach got out edging to slip, leaving him on 95 and just Jimmy Anderson as company. Clearly thinking his time at the crease was running out, Foakes hit three fours in the next over to reach his century on debut before skying a delivery from Lakmal. England finished on 342, a very competitive total in the circumstances.

The Sri Lankan innings played out very similarly to England’s innings yesterday. Firstly, their top order collapsed in the morning session. Anderson made the initial breakthrough on his second delivery, with opener Karunaratne getting a very fine edge to Foakes. Sri Lanka’s other opener, Kaushal Silva, only lasted a few more overs before being trapped LBW by Sam Curran.

After the first few overs the swing available died down, bringing England’s three spinners to the fore. First to get his chance was Jack Leach, who drew Kusal Mendis onto the front foot where the ball clipped the edge and Stokes caught it low at slip. Moeen came on soon after, and bowled de Silva round his legs in a dismissal eerily similar to Stokes’ from the first innings.

The experienced partnership of Angelo Matthews and Dinesh Chandimal took Sri Lanka safely to Lunch, and were making steady progress through the afternoon session. When you need someone to break a solid partnership, who would you turn to? Adil Rashid, of course, and he duly delivered by luring Chandimal down the pitch before it spun sharply to Foakes who completed the stumping.

Sri Lanka were 115-5 at this point, exactly the same position England found themselves in the day before. The major difference between the two teams is that the hosts do not have players capable of scoring fifties and hundreds in their lower order. There was a scare just before Tea as Dickwella hit the ball flush into the neck area of Rory Burns at short leg as the fielder ducked to try to avoid it, but after receiving medical attention on the field it appears to have just left a bruise.

Ali struck in the first ball after Tea, with Matthews edging a bat-pad to Jennings at short leg. He also dismissed Dickwella and Dananjaya before Leach and Rashid took the final two wickets of the innings. Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings came out to bat and made it safely to the close of play, although Burns still looked nervous and the more vulnerable of the two openers.

Today’s performance by England is perhaps the best one I’ve ever seen from them in Asian conditions. The spin unit appeared to have no weak links and the fielding was superb, with Ben Foakes doing well in his debut behind the stumps. Sri Lanka are not the strongest opponents, having not recovered from the loss of several great players in recent years, but then again the same could be said for England.

Moeen Ali’s figures of 4/66 take him to 149 career Test wickets, becoming the 7th highest wicket-taking spinner for England and overtaking two-time Rebel tourist John Emburey. Not only that, but his bowling average of 38.44 is better than both ‘King Of Spain’ Ashley Giles (40.60) and Pat Pocock (44.41), and is only slightly worse than Emburey (38.40), Phil Tufnell (37.68), Robert Croft (37.24). All five of these players were repeatedly picked as specialist spin bowlers, so it might be time for us to consider Moeen in those terms. He’s by no means a great spinner, as his bowling average of 49.67 away from home attests, but I think it would be fair to say that he would have walked into almost any England team as either an allrounder or specialist spinner in the last forty years or so. He’s just unlucky to have been the one to follow Graeme Swann.

As always, please comment on the game (or anything else) below.


8 thoughts on “Sri Lanka v England, 1st Test Day 2 – Spin Triplets

  1. oreston Nov 7, 2018 / 4:57 pm

    Thanks, Danny. It’s nice to able to read an account of an England performance overseas that has some real positives and can point to an effective bowling performance by players who were appropriately selected based on the conditions and their ability. Denly was admittedly a strange pick in the batting department for this tour, but like him or loathe him I think we have to acknowledge that Ed Smith is getting some important calls right.

    I completely agree with your assessment of Moeen, but I think we also need to consider the impact on his performances of the ever-changing odyssey of his England batting position. Last winter Down Under he looked just about finished with both bat and ball so he’s come back quite well (it’s not his fault he’s batting at three). If only he could muster a few more bowling performances like today’s away from England.


    • dannycricket Nov 7, 2018 / 5:09 pm

      He had injured both his side and hand during the Ashes tour, so I see no reason why he couldn’t have returned at the start of the summer. We are always so negative and focus on what players can’t do, but Moeen averages 31.88 at home so why not just pick him at home and as a second/third spinner overseas?


      • oreston Nov 7, 2018 / 5:35 pm

        Oh, don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t saying that he *must* take more wickets overseas to justify his place, simply that it would be nice if he could. As I say, I completely agree with your assessment of his career.
        Accepting that any overseas bowIing performances of note are therefore a bonus rather than an expectation, I agree that it would be perfectly reasonable to regard him as a second/third spinner away from England (especially if he’s also going to be asked to bat in the top order). The willingness to do the sensible thing (at last) and select Adil and Leach has made that possible. It’s a far cry from two years ago in India when England’s spin options included the likes of Dawson, Ansari and Batty.
        As for how soon Moeen returned to the side last summer, I think he benefited from the break and that the chance to go back to Worcestershire for a while did him good. Besides which, in the meantime it gave Ed Smith the opportunity to execute his cunning plan to bring in Adil Rashid.


  2. Benny Nov 7, 2018 / 10:01 pm

    First, I don’t believe England could have wanted anything more from their bowling attack.

    Second, it feels like we’ve finally got a new era coming

    Lastly, Sky’s round up was discussing who to pick where, when Bairstow is fit. After so long, we have a real keeper (who got a ton). Having checked cricinfo, I’d say Bairstow needs to do better to be the automatic selection the media claim.


  3. Metatone Nov 7, 2018 / 10:57 pm

    That seductress Hope is back in the picture.

    Credit to Smith – as I observed yesterday, picking 3 spinners is a big change over some previous tours – he’s made some good calls. And, as Rob Smyth has noted in The G, the idea of England implementing rotation (esp. for bowlers) rather than dropping might hold dangers in the long term, but right now it looks like a positive.

    Of course, Smith’s big challenge is to do the impossible and find some top order bats to turn us into a reliably good team. I hope Burns gets a run at it.


  4. d'Arthez Nov 8, 2018 / 11:25 am

    Looks like it will be all of five toss losses in Sri Lanka that have resulted in a win in the last 6 years (since the start of 2013). Out of an eye-watering 30 decisive Tests. Why are they even playing cricket beyond the toss there? And that stat is still massively boosted by the incompetent umpire in the Sri Lanka – Zimbabwe game. Otherwise you can go for 2 years before finally a team that loses the toss actually wins in Sri Lanka (and that includes the home side winning after losing the toss; pretty much unheard of in the rest of the cricketing world, with the exception a team like Zimbabwe, who hardly win games – the importance of the Test win in Bangladesh for Zimbabwean cricket can hardly be overstated).

    I am only looking at decisive games here, so I have filtered out the draws. Some of which may have been hard fought, and some of which were nothing but looking at the rain.

    In comparison, corresponding figures in Australia are 15 Test (despite loss of toss), 20 in England, 14 in South Africa, 13 in West Indies, 8 in New Zealand (which is also on the low side, but it is helped by New Zealand being practically unbeatable if they win the toss (the last won toss for New Zealand in New Zealand that resulted in a loss happened in 2009; such caveats clearly do not apply to Sri Lanka), 15 for India and 7 for Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe hardly play Tests these days (in the period under consideration, Zimbabwe have played 13 decisive Tests in Zimbabwe; and there was only one draw there in that time). And 7 for Pakistan in the UAE. 4 in Bangladesh, but they have only played decisive 16 Tests in the last 6 years. Which again is not great.

    Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, there have been “just” 26 instances of a team winning the toss and winning the game in England (compared to Sri Lanka’s soon to be 25). And again it is not just touring sides that struggle in Sri Lanka when they lose the toss: it is Sri Lanka itself as well, who will shortly move to having only drawing records against Pakistan and New Zealand, and losing records against all other major teams since 2011 at home, when they have lost the toss.

    So it is clear that despite the rather average batting returns of Root this Test, he should be a shoe-in for MOM, for his tossing abilities.


    • metatone Nov 8, 2018 / 9:15 pm

      Is it just that the pitches deteriorate?


    • d'Arthez Nov 9, 2018 / 6:23 am

      I have not watched all Tests in Sri Lanka. Partly because they are boring, and utterly predictable. Unlike Tests in say England, where despite losing the toss, touring sides have decent chances to get away with a result there.

      There is definitely an argument to be made for pitch deterioration. The last time a team lost the toss and was asked to bat first was in 2015 (India were asked to bat first and still won the game). In all the subsequent 14 Tests, the team winning the toss opted to bat first. Of those 12 games were won by the side batting first (only Zimbabwe, courtesy of an incompetent umpire) and Sri Lanka against Bangladesh) failing to go on and win the game.

      There is also an argument to be made that touring sides have do not have unsuitable bowling attacks for the occasion. For example. while South Africa were whitewashed recently, they lost both tosses, and their bowling was not that atrocious. Maharaj took the best bowling figures ever for a visiting bowler in Sri Lanka, on Day 1 of the second Test; yes day 1 for a spinner. That hardly suggests a deteriorating pitch. That suggests that either the Sri Lankan batsmen are grossly incompetent, or that the pitch was already quite iffy to begin with. Further evidence in support of that argument is that in the whole series, Sri Lanka bowled all of 8 overs of pace. And while one can make an argument that South Africa are not the best players of spin, the returns of Maharaj on Day 1 would suggest that neither are Sri Lanka, if we were to entertain the argument that the pitch was a traditional one.

      Also since qualitatively the home side will not get that much better or worse depending on the toss result (in terms of bowling attack), you have to wonder why it will be soon that Sri Lanka have lost 10 Tests after losing the toss, and just won 4 since 2011, with only one of those 3 wins coming in the last three years (or since Sangakkara retired), and that was the one against Zimbabwe. In fact, after losing the toss in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka have even failed to register a single draw since the start of 2011.

      Likewise, Sri Lankan batsmen don’t become worse batsmen whether they bat first or second. They’ll be just as good (or as bad) as they otherwise were. Other than pitch deterioration, the only other remotely viable explanation would be scoreboard pressure. And I don’t think that would be that credible, since then all the teams that tour Sri Lanka must be suffering massively from it, but only in Sri Lanka, since teams like South Africa, Australia and such really don’t struggle that much to win elsewhere. The same Australia that lost the tosses and the series 3-0 in Sri Lanka, also ran India quite close in India in 2017. That hardly suggests they cannot play spin, or cannot bowl in the subcontinent.


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