Sri Lanka vs England: 2nd Test, Victory

That was really quite impressive from England. From what was still a relatively unfavourable position overnight, and the concession of a small, but not irrelevant first innings lead, the tourists dominated day four and finished off the match as evening descended.

There are a few notable takeaways from the match and the series, but perhaps the most striking is that some of those players who had been on the receiving end of the harshest criticism responded well and had a good day. There is ever a call for players not performing to be summarily dropped, and while inevitably over a period it requires them to perform or be replaced, the instant nature of social media precludes the possibility that a player might learn and improve. There is a lack of experience in Asian conditions for obvious reasons, and on top of that players haven’t been able to actually get out on the field much other than in the Tests themselves. Leach and Bess both indicated that they were somewhat rusty, and that they weren’t happy with how they’d bowled in the first Test, but today they were much improved, taking all the Sri Lankan wickets between them and Joe Root, who chimed in with a couple at the end.

This doesn’t mean for a second that they are now the finished article, nor that they’ll perform well in India, but they have shown improvement in what are alien conditions. Both bowled extremely well today.

The same applies to Sibley, who had struggled badly in his first three innings of the series but took England home today with a measured and generally secure unbeaten half century. In his interview after the game he mentioned he had been working on various technical aspects and it will please everyone that in this innings it seems to have paid off. Few of England’s newer batsmen have much if any experience of Asian batting conditions generally, and there are no warm-ups to try and develop, it all has to be done in the nets or in their heads. When sledged by Dickwalla as to whether he would be opening in India, Sibley replied “I don’t know, I haven’t had a very good series” which is charming, disarming, and indicates a person extremely aware of not having done particular well up to that point. Again, it doesn’t mean he is nailed on to perform in India, but it does mean he’s working extremely hard to find a way of making runs. He is learning, they are learning. Zak Crawley’s innings was brief, but it too showed signs of him searching for a method that would work for him.

The captain will be important for this process – he fell cheaply in the run chase today, but his innings yesterday was more than good, it was sublime – one of those where a player appears to be operating on a different plane to everyone else. That provides a standard for others to aspire to, and shows that it’s possible to succeed. England might be considerable underdogs for the India series, but this tour of Sri Lanka has given the players an opportunity to prepare themselves for what they will face. It is not unreasonable to say that England’s chances now are better than they were a fortnight ago, it’s just that those chances remain comparatively slim. Of course, there will be significant changes to the team anyway, with the return of Burns, Arches and Stokes, and in those cases they will be coming in cold, while the loss of Jonny Bairstow is a pity, given that he did reasonably well in Galle.

As for Sri Lanka, they were faced with what is a common challenge in a close Test, that of the 3rd innings, where all the pressure goes onto the batting side who can lose the game in an afternoon, and they did. The batting was both reckless and excessively casual, and once again the curious psychology of a batting collapse took hold, whereby players will be sitting in the changing room wondering quite why their decision-making was so poor.

If an incentive were needed, it’s that England have closed the gap on Australia in the World Test Championship to half a per cent. They remain in 4th, but given the series coming up, they have the chance to change that. It’s a huge ask of them, but in any competition the most you can hope for is the chance to be in control of your own destiny. It’s therefore timely that today the ECB confirmed a two Test series against New Zealand in early summer. It would be ironic if that were to serve as a warm up for a final between the same two sides immediately afterwards.


25 thoughts on “Sri Lanka vs England: 2nd Test, Victory

  1. Marek Jan 25, 2021 / 7:58 pm

    “On a different plane…”: some stats mining:

    Root 426 runs at 106.5; all England’s other batsmen put together 534 runs at 23.22

    Embuldeniya 15-415 at 27.66, SR 47.6; all SL’s other bowlers put together 9-559 at 62.11, SR 121.4


    • Marek Jan 26, 2021 / 9:29 pm

      …part 2:

      Paul Stirling in five ODIs in January, 420 runs at 105, 3 hundreds; all the other Ireland batsmen put together, 772 runs at 22, no hundreds and one score over 56.


  2. dArthez Jan 26, 2021 / 4:39 am

    So New Zealand are ranked #1 in the world, and they are still just the warmup to India in the English summer. With just two Tests. Meritocracy.

    Not that I think India are a bad side, but you wonder what more New Zealand must do to make the promotion to ‘main act’. Probably something in the region of adding 50 million cricket mad Kiwis to the population.


    • Marek Jan 26, 2021 / 10:37 am

      I wonder how much that series has been thought through generally.

      I think it’s only the third occasion that a team will have played tests in consecutive English seasons, and there was a fairly clear rational for the first two (anniversary match, neutral test between teams struggling to find a venue)–and the second of those was a financial disaster apparently.

      I also wonder how much money it will generate. I suspect it will be less than the ECB would generate during the Hundred’s first budgeting period by scrapping it, given that it’s projected to make a multi-million pound annual loss.


  3. Miami Dad's Six Jan 26, 2021 / 8:47 am

    Great to see South Africa touring Pakistan on my streams this morning. I awoke to see a ripper from Yasir Shah remove Faf du Plessis, edging to slip – lovely.

    It’s been a good month for Test cricket. Lockdown would otherwise be gnawing at me, in fact it probably still is a bit, but the cricket has certainly blunted it’s edges. I guess this is why the powers that be were so keen for the Premiership football to remain on the tele, to distract a restless, “itchy” population. The only thing is, the ambience and feel of a football match feeds off a crowd’s energy and I’ve found it nigh on unwatchable without that instinctive buzz, and it’s only made even worse with the dubbed crowd noises – even on the couple of occasions Plymouth Argyle have been on TV I’ve found myself questioning what the point is. Why are they playing matches, what is the meaning of existence? In a Dostoevskyan sense, ya know. I just cannot find any purpose in the whole thing.


    • Mark Jan 26, 2021 / 10:59 am

      Yes I agree…

      Although the reason for the empty stadiums is because of a terrible global pandemic, there is part of me that can’t help thinking sports administrators deserve to have empty stadiums. No doubt eventually in time all the fans will troop back, but the powers that be should be aware how important the paying at the gate fan is. Without them, the spectacle is vacuous and hollow. I would imagine it’s not easy to motivate yourself to play in such an empty environment too?

      Perhaps administrators, pundits/media who get in for free all the time, and disparage the paying fan, and even some of the more arrogant players should pause for thought. (I could name a certain number of ex players turned pundits that seem to have contempt for the paying fan.)They have had a distain for them, and put all their eggs in the tv audience basket. The digital fan may bring in the bulk of the money, but provides no atmosphere at the theatre. Be careful what you wish for!

      Premiership football played in front of one man and his dog. Who would have thought it? Almost pointless.


  4. Tom Kerr Jan 26, 2021 / 12:45 pm

    Just been watching the end of Pakistan vs South Africa first day of the test match and have seen the most bizarre stance by a batsman ever. It seems to work, basically Fawad faces square leg and at the last moment swivels to a more orthodox stance. It’s incredible to watch. I don’t have a link to a video right now, but it’s worth trying to find one.

    I always thought Peter Willey in his later days of playing cricket opened up his stance a bit too much, but Fawad’s stance is something else…


    • BobW Jan 26, 2021 / 2:04 pm

      I’m looking forward to the day a batsman has a run or walk up to the wicket as well as the bowler…


    • Miami Dad's Six Jan 27, 2021 / 9:35 am

      Yeah it’s quite a late-era-Chanderpaul trigger movement. Fawad Alam is one of those who was picked 10-15 years ago, didn’t do much, but has absolutely torn up First Class cricket ever since averaging in the late 50s, but was ignored in a 2001-2006 Ramprakash type way- and now he’s returned he’s been pretty good, albeit from a small-ish sample size. Pakistan have admittedly had some good middle order players in that time, but they’ve also had some offal turning out for them.

      It’s looking quite a good Test – Pakistan trailing by 50 with 5 wickets remaining. I expect Pakistan to get a lead, but they’ll have to bat last on an up and down turning pitch with Maharaj who is pretty handy.


      • dArthez Jan 27, 2021 / 11:19 am

        Will be an easy win for Pakistan. South Africa are really not even half as good as many people (still) think.


        • dArthez Jan 28, 2021 / 5:48 am

          I guess SA supporters should consider anything better than an innings loss a victory of sorts.


          • Miami Dad's Six Jan 28, 2021 / 1:58 pm

            Markram and Van der Dussen actually batted SA to a degree of parity in the game, before a late mini-collapse swung the game back Pakistan’s way. It’d be interesting to see them chase anything above 150. I do like watching Yasir – he’s not a fantastic leg spinner all of the time, but he certainly can bowl plenty of wicket-taking deliveries and he brings an energy and a watchable “pizzazz” to it.

            I am not sure how down to be on SA – Rabada and de Kock would get into any team in the world, Faf, Elgar, Maharaj wouldn’t be far off most sides, whilst Ngidi and Nortje have potential. The batting is as weak as I can remember it since readmission, though.


          • dArthez Jan 28, 2021 / 2:44 pm

            It was an excellent partnership between Markram and van der Dussen.

            The problem for SA is that they have no middle order. Bavuma is probably envious of Jermaine Blackwood’s record, and we all know that Blackwood is not exactly everyone’s idea of a Test bat.

            Quinton de Kock usually thinks he is playing an ODI innings, rather than a Test innings, and Faf has been more miss than hit in the last few seasons. More often than Quinton is out for a run-a-ball twenty. Which is not exactly what SA need right now. And Faf has been very inconsistent – occasionally posting a massive score (like the 199 against SL) but usually struggling to score even 2 fifties in a series..

            And you can’t expect the bowlers to bail out the non-existent middle order time and again.

            Which is one of the reasons that they have passed 300 in an innings exactly once in more than 3 year of Test cricket on the road (11 completed innings with an average score of about 211, since January 2018).

            At home it is a slightly better story, mainly due to a) Sri Lanka getting injured all over the place last month), and b) AB de Villiers flaying the Australians in the Sandpaper Steve series. England for instance never conceded more than 284 in an innings to South Africa, when they last toured SA.

            I’d be surprised if Pakistan have to chase anything over 100 tomorrow to be honest.


          • dArthez Jan 29, 2021 / 5:21 am

            So +34/6, with Bavuma, three bowlers and an allrounder left. Yeah, I can really see this lasting beyond tea (not).

            Chances are higher that the pre-lunch session will be extended so that Pakistan can wrap up the formalities.


          • dArthez Jan 29, 2021 / 7:23 am

            Faf is just too poor to get into most sides. Has terrible droughts that make Alastair Cook’s poor run of form from 2014 onward look like massive contributions. Also, age is not on his side anymore (he will be 37 this year).

            Elgar is probably one of the best openers around at the moment (34 this year). Markram has a lot of potential, but we have been saying that for what, six years now? Time to deliver. Though it is doubtful that SA have better alternatives available. And he does have captaincy potential, and some experience, so could become an SA captain.

            Van der Dussen looks like a decent find, but already on the wrong side of 30 (he’ll be 32 in a few days). But a few good years of service would be a massive contribution to South African cricket. de Kock, once he starts batting like a Test bat, is one of the best around. Sadly most of his Test innings are just glorified one-day knocks.

            Bavuma, the less said the better. Notice that Quinton now bats above him, despite being captain and wicketkeeper. He is there to make up the number, and seemingly any run he scores is a bonus. Can’t really field such passengers in such a mediocre middle order. Mediocre is probably generous to be honest. It is a piece of selectorial incompetence to keep picking him. It is not like he is the only Black batsman in South Africa, so might as well try someone else. Who knows, maybe someone like Keegan Petersen might come good (I have my doubts, but I have no doubt that Temba is not international class).

            As for the bowling:

            Rabada is very good, but will start getting worse, due to T20 cricket (that is where the money is, not playing for SA, so can’t really fault him). Unlike England, SA do not have the financial clout to allow Rabada to remain a Test specialist.
            Maharaj is useful, but can’t do it on his own, spinwise. Also seems to struggle a bit in Asia, but that could also be because Asian batsmen tend to play spin a lot better.
            As for all the other quicks, little experience, so really hit and miss how they will develop in the international game. They could also decide to chase the T20 monies, and I would not fault them for that. One good contract in the IPL will net them as much as a career for South Africa, across all formats.

            It is really hard to see anything other than SA going the West Indies way.


      • Marek Jan 27, 2021 / 9:11 pm

        I think that’s a little bit harsh on Fawad Alam. He may not have done very well in most of the innings he played (actually, just like this time round if we want to be picky), but he did score 170 on his debut–to save Pakistan from completely ignominy having been bowled out for 90 in the first innings, in a match where the only other players to reach 55 were those journeymen Younis Khan and Kumar Sangakkara, and where no Pakistani apart from those two reached 40.


        • dlpthomas Jan 28, 2021 / 3:13 am

          I love a good come-back story so I think its bloody brilliant that Fawad Alam is getting runs. The fact that he is just a tad quirky is the icing on a very big cake.


        • Miami Dad's Six Jan 28, 2021 / 2:01 pm

          Definitely harsh on Fawad, the commentary made it sound like he’d had 10 Tests after his debut ton, as opposed to 2. He actually opened in his opening Tests too – and to be fair to Pakistan the middle order they had was Mohammed Yousef, Younis Khan, Misbah and Shoaib Malik. That doesn’t exactly excuse them ignored Fawad after those 4 retired, mind.


          • Marek Jan 28, 2021 / 9:37 pm

            …or for that matter when they weren’t picking them for other reasons!

            Only one of those four was playing for the first half of the England series in 2010, and it’s difficult to see at that stage which of Salman Butt, Imran Farhat, Azhar Ali and Umar Amin (their first-choice top four) he WOULDN’T replace, less than a year after that 170!


  5. Miami Dad's Six Feb 2, 2021 / 11:26 am

    Channel 4 win the rights to show the entire India tour.


    What on earth are people paying Sky Sports for nowadays?!


    • dArthez Feb 2, 2021 / 1:56 pm

      Probably to find out how long people are willing to put up with Vaughan, before someone flips and does something terrible.

      Looks like Australia are postponing the tour of South Africa (not a massive surprise), which leaves them needing a small miracle to play a Test in England next summer. If either England or India get past 498 points, Australia are out. So they need either a drawn series, a modest India win (1-0 only) or a small England win (1-0 or 2-1; other decisive results in the series will rule Australia out as far as i can tell). And there are not enough points on offer for New Zealand to miss out, If Australia don’t play either of their postponed tours.

      All on the back of a poor overrate. Could not have happened to a nicer set of players.


      • dArthez Feb 2, 2021 / 2:01 pm

        Obviously, I have assumed all of the draws will be draws and not ties. For some inexplicable reason both teams get more points for a tie than a draw – which could potentially lead to rather hilarious situations.


    • Steve T Feb 2, 2021 / 4:25 pm

      Well Sky do have the Abu Dhabi T10 League!


    • Mark Feb 2, 2021 / 5:37 pm

      Frankly I’m surprised Channel 4 even bothered bidding, seeing how they were treated by the ECB after 2005. I guess the 20/20 World Cup has mended the fences, But they must think it’s worth the money.

      Interesting that neither Sky, “ECB partner organisation” (Snark) or BT think the rights were worth any more. That is quite telling.


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