That Sri Lanka’s tour of England was largely an insipid affair was clear enough when the players, journalists and fans began discussing the Pakistan series even before the One-Day International series between England and Sri Lanka had begun. We’re ready for Pakistan, came the battle cry from Alastair Cook, despite the series being nearly a month away at the time.
It didn’t seem too presumptuous as Angelo Mathews’s men were walloped in the first two Tests before securing a draw in the third. If there was any hope of a more closely-contested series in the ODIs, especially after the dramatic tie in the first game, it was quickly doused as England won 3-0 and then took the one-off Twenty20 International on Tuesday (July 5). Here are five things we’ve learnt from the England v Sri Lanka encounters:
Hales-Cook, the start of something beautiful?
Since Andrew Strauss’s retirement in 2012, Cook has had eight opening partners. It was something straight out of Elizabeth Taylor’s playbook, except she had a 69-carat diamond to show for it; Cook didn’t.
Alex Hales was the latest batsman to pair up with the England captain at the top of the order in the Test series in South Africa, but the former was averaging 17 and the latter only 23, and it wasn’t looking good. Hales was given another chance, at home against Sri Lanka, and this time he found his footing — 292 runs in three games at 58.40. Cook, too, fared better — 212 runs in as many games at 70.66 — as the pair finished as the second and third highest run-getters for the series. A maiden hundred continued to prove elusive for Hales, but he showed he was willing to work on his deficiencies, even playing some extra County Championship games earlier in the year, and made the opening spot his own for the Pakistan Tests.
England yet to decide which ‘keeper to keep
There’s no doubting Jonny Bairstow’s quality as a batsman. Man of the Series in the Tests with 387 runs in three matches at 129, Bairstow has not just been making hay while the sun shines, but making runs when England found themselves in a hole as well. But, despite 19 catches this series, his rap sheet of dropped chances continues to grow.
With Paul Farbrace, the assistant coach, suggesting “the wicketkeeper is picked first and foremost to take his catches and any run he scores is a bonus”, Jos Buttler, the preferred England ‘keeper in limited-overs cricket, may find himself back in the Test side for more reasons than one. Trevor Bayliss, the coach, has talked up Buttler’s chances of a return to red-ball cricket, giving selectors, players and fans plenty to think about.
The tables have turned
Sri Lanka are traditionally known for their wily spinners while England are traditionally known for their weakness against them. But things took a different turn, pardon the pun, this tour. Rangana Herath bowled 106.3 overs and took seven wickets compared to Moeen Ali’s two wickets from 49 overs, a decent effort considering that the pitches are less spinner-friendly than they would be during the latter part of the summer. But Herath is 38 and the question remains: who, after him? The ODIs, from which Herath retired earlier this year, haven’t tossed up any answers. In fact, it’s England that seem to be looking in tip-top shape in the spin department. Adil Rashid, the 28-year-old legspinner, has featured in all of England’s last 24 ODIs since his recall in May 2015 and there’s even talk that he could become the side’s premier spinner in Tests.
Mendis offers a glimmer of hope
One of the few bright spots for Sri Lanka in an otherwise dreary tour was Kusal Mendis. Only 21, he batted at in the all-important No. 3 position and showed gumption, making the team’s lone half-century in the first Test at Headingley as the side was blown away for 119 in the second innings. And though he could only finish with 156 runs at the end of the Test series, Mathews praised Mendis and reiterated that he was the guy to stick with at one-drop. He impressed briefly in the one-dayers as well, with two half-centuries, but he would be kicking himself that he couldn’t carry on for a big knock. Nonetheless, with Sri Lanka in a rebuilding phase, Mendis could be the light at the end of the tunnel.
English football to take notes from English cricket?
When a Microsoft algorithm told England’s long-suffering fans not to bother as the national football team would exit in the semifinal, little did one realise the data was describing the best-case scenario. Even as England were ousted by Iceland, the cricket team has gone from strength to strength. It wasn’t so long ago that they had crashed out of the World Cup with their tails between their legs, but such has been their renaissance in the limited-overs format that they were runners-up in the recent World Twenty20 and have spanked Sri Lanka with victory margins of ten wickets (with 95 balls remaining), six wickets (with 11 balls remaining), 122 runs and eight wickets (with 15 balls remaining).