The three match Test series between England and Sri Lanka has just finished, with England winning 1-0. The series was plagued by bad weather, with each match losing at least a day’s worth of play. Because of this, despite England being the dominate team throughout the series, they were actually quite lucky to get the series win. Their win in the First Test at Cardiff was remarkable. They declared their first innings, just after Ian Bell completed his century, soon after the start of play on the final day. They had scored 496, giving them a lead of just 96 over Sri Lanka’s total. They then produced a great team display to bowl Sri Lanka out second time round for just 82 in 24.4 overs, to win the game by an innings and 14 runs. Their victory was even more remarkable when you consider that they did it one bowler down; Anderson picked up an injury during the Sri Lankan first innings that would keep him out of not only the second innings, but also the Second Test.
England batted well throughout the series. Cook and Trott continued from where they left off in Australia. Cook’s lowest score in the series was 55, and he got two centuries and 96 in his other three innings. Trott’s scores were a bit modest by his standards. While he scored 203 in the First Test, and 58 in the second innings of the Second Test, his other scores were 2 and 4, which meant his average in the series was a “mere” 66.75 to Cook’s 97.5. England’s stand-out batsman however, wasn’t either of these two. Ian Bell scored fewer runs than Cook, 331 to 390, but with two not-out hundreds and a not-out half-century, in addition to another half-century in the only innings in which he was actually dismissed, Bell averaged a mammoth 331! His strike rate was also impressive: 69.39, higher than that of both Cook and Trott. When he’s playing well, Bell is great to watch, as he was throughout this series. Before the start of the series, Pietersen’s place in the team was beginning to look under threat, but he has had a bit of a resurgence. He managed just 3 in the First Test, dismissed by left-arm spin, his nemesis of recent times. In the first innings of the Second Test he again scored poorly, getting just 2. But in the second innings he hit 72, his highest Test score since his 227 against Australia, though he again succumbing the left-arm spinner and played a somewhat more restrained innings than usual. In the Third Test however, he looked near to his best, and certain to score a century. But, in his haste to get there before the close of play on the third day, he gave his wicket away on 85. Hopefully, he’ll continue to play well in the coming one-day series, and then against India. Morgan and Prior also played well, the former cementing his place in the team as Collingwood’s replacement. The only bad point for England was Strauss’ batting, he scored only 27 runs in four innings, three times being dismissed in single digits by Sri Lanka’s left-arm fast bowler Welegedara, one of these for a duck. His form against the left-armer is of particular concern because India also have a left-arm seamer, in the form of Zaheer Khan, and England won’t want him to repeat his string of dismissals against him.
Bowling wise England were mixed at best. While they had a great performance in the second innings of the First Test, that was really the high point. In the rest of the series they tended to bowl one or two good sessions per match, but the rest of the time they were average, occasionally verging on the absolutely terrible. Anderson was greatly missed in the Second Test, not so much for his wicket taking ability but for his control. He rarely goes for runs while the rest of the seam attack, and his replacement Finn, do. There were 58 extras in the Sri Lankan first innings of the Second Test, which, after Dilshan’s 193 and Paranavitana’s 65, was the third biggest contribution to Sri Lanka’s total. England got a slender 7 run first innings lead, but it could easily have been 30 or 40 more had they bowled with more control, which ultimately would have meant less time batting to build a lead and more time to bowl them out a second time. After Anderson’s return for the Third Test they bowled well at first, reducing Sri Lanka to 39/4 in favourable conditions, but they failed to remove the lower order as cheaply as they should have, and they recovered to 184 all out. Again the extra 50 or 60 (if not more) runs that could have been saved were important, as again it meant batting for longer and taking time out of the game that was needed to bowl Sri Lanka out. As it turned out, Sri Lanka batted well in their second innings, probably their best collective batting performance of the series, so an England victory would probably not have happened in this Test anyway. But it will not always be like that, and if England get a team in a similar position again they need to concentrate and complete the job, rather than letting up halfway through.
The coming series against India should be very competitive, and I think England will go in as slight favourites, despite India being the top ranked Test team in the ICC ratings. Conditions will obviously favour England’s bowlers, but they will have to show much more discipline against India’s batting line-up, which is stronger than Sri Lanka’s. Batting wise, England’s line-up looks very strong, with Strauss the only batsman with problems at the moment, and, while India’s bowlers are more capable than those England have faced both in this series and against Australia in the winter, I think they will still be able to score loads of runs. Hopefully the weather will be better by the time the series starts though, as it would be a shame if rain curtails what should be a good contest.