Only the most perceptive learned much from the dreary end to the series at Lord’s, barely a dozen overs possible as rain ruined any chance of a final-day frolic for either side on Monday (June 13).
But considering the competition for the trophy was effectively over by the end of the fifth day of play this series, the time after Sri Lanka’s disastrous second day in Durham proved instructive for both teams.
For starters: Sri Lanka aren’t West Indies. After losing their first 30 wickets for 311 in fewer than four sessions at the crease at Headingley and Chester-le-Street, it was natural to fixate on their regression, especially since the last time they were in town; doubly so when the ICC started talking about second divisions for Test cricket.
Then, they showed something. Between the experience of Angelo Mathews, the skipper; the poise of Dinesh Chandimal; the pluck of Kusal Mendis and Kaushal Silva and the legitimate talent of Nuwan Pradeep, they combined to create something where there looked to be nothing.
Their next red-ball assignment is against Australia next month, where they will relish being back in the hot, hot heat and dustbowl tracks. Especially after those punishing couple of weeks up t’north, as they say in those parts.
As for England, they entered the series with Alastair Cook and Joe Root the only two with truly bolted-on positions in the top five; proper match-winners, the both of them. Regardless of where he’s currently batting, Jonny Bairstow looks to have joined them in that elite bracket. In relative terms it is early days to make that call, but he’s looked that good.
Bairstow picked up both the man of the match and series awards at Lord’s, clocking off with 387 runs to his name at a princely 129. Whether he retains the gloves in the medium (or short) term is yet to be seen, but this a day to revel in where he’s taken his game with the bat.
Alex Hales was less emphatic in strokeplay and sheer volume than Bairstow, but as detailed on Sunday, it will provide great comfort to Cook that the eighth dance partner he’s had at the top of the order since 2012 may be the one who does the best Rumba.
And footwork down the list will need to be fancier against a Pakistan attack Cook acknowledged presents a challenge altogether more sophisticated (and faster) than they have faced this past month. Indeed, the fact that England were consistently three-for-not-enough won’t be lost upon the skipper.
The collateral damage from that reality has to be Nick Compton. How that vacancy will be filled is a topic for another day, but watching his physically strained expressions upon being dismissed both times at Lord’s reinforces that he’s self-aware enough to know it’s over.
Root has a habit of elevating his game against the best opposition, so it seems inevitable a player of his quality will return to his best after only firing a solitary shot in this series. That’s one more than James Vince managed in his first series as an England player though, collecting just the 54 runs on the way. No one doubts his class, but after Compton he’s the next in line to receive scrutiny like he will never have experienced before.
With the ball, these Tests crystalised that the James Anderson-Stuart Broad new-ball partnership really is one at the peak of its powers; irrefutably the best in the world.
Anderson’s 21 wickets at less than 11 were built on a pair of colossal performances to begin, and it was only fitting that he took the only wicket on the final day with a sleight-of-hand offcutter sufficient to trap Silva leg before.
Then, coming from relatively nowhere, is Chris Woakes, from outside the squad before Ben Stokes’s injury in Leeds to having done everything right to overtake Steven Finn as Anderson and Broad’s auxiliary. Cook said Woakes, who bowled faster than anyone in the series with impeccable consistency, had made ‘big strides’ in his pair of Tests. That’s to say the least.
As for Finn: it’s complicated. A couple of handy three-fors and a timely wicket from a nasty bouncer in Durham all help the cause of a bloke who even at his worst finds wickets. He was certainly a better option for Cook at Lord’s, but his primacy feels less certain than before.
Yet, with the schedule England have over the next twelve months, all of the above and a handful more will likely be required. To that end, it’s timely that Mark Wood is reportedly close to a county cricket return from injury.
There it was as the lights were turned off at Lord’s, an underwhelming end to what was at times an underwhelming contest. But not without its fine performances and moments of intrigue. And never without a lesson or two learned along the way.