England’s victory in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley was comprehensive, they thumped Sri Lanka inside three days, and it was certainly a complete victory for them. But, at the same time, England would have been disappointed that some of their other batsmen – apart from Alex Hales and Jonny Bairstow – didn’t get enough runs. That’s a worry. But they won the game so easily, by an innings and 88 runs, so they must be quite happy with that.
As we know, everything is so analytical these days, so when teams win, they no longer take things for granted and want to see exactly what they can do even better. And I am sure England would have gone back and thought about it and concluded that they could have batted a little bit better, especially the top order.
Barring Hales and Bairstow, none of the England batsmen were able to cope with the Sri Lanka pacers, which was interesting. England pride themselves on having a long batting order and they needed it on this occasion. The conditions at Headingley were decidedly bowler-friendly, though. All the bowlers should have enjoyed bowling under those conditions, especially on Day 2 when the pitch quickened up a bit. The ball was bouncing awkwardly at times, so the batsmen who got out cheaply will be disappointed naturally. But it’s difficult to say any of them gave their wickets away so they shouldn’t be walking away from Headingley with their heads hanging too low. It was just skewed in favour of the pacers, for all three days, and that showed in the outcome.
I was particularly impressed with the way Alex Hales adapted to the long format. I think that the selectors have told Hales, if not by word then by selection, that they have a lot of faith in him, and they have picked him for all the three Tests. That allows anyone who knows he is being given a run to relax a little bit more, and it will also allow him to make the necessary adjustments for Test cricket. He needs to spend more and more time at the crease in contrast to the objectives in the shorter forms of the game of trying to hit every ball. At Headingley, the Sri Lankan pacers were moving the ball around a lot but he adapted to the conditions well and played a very sensible innings. Wickets falling at the other end, no doubt, would have helped him to focus.
Bairstow batted very well too; in fact, the best batsman on show at Headingley as not many got the opportunity to show their wares. He sussed the conditions quickly and made a few adjustments to his game, like taking a step or two out of his crease to the medium pacers, which helped him negotiate the movement the bowlers were getting. As his innings blossomed, his strokeplay entertained. Bairstow shone through the gloom and gave a very good account of himself.
I don’t think it was a matter of changing bowling ends but the length at which Anderson bowled. He got his first wicket with a short ball in his first spell but the second spell and all others after that were a lot more impressive. He pitched up a lot more and we saw the end result. That’s the length seamers always need to bowl in the conditions we found at Headingley. It has been a proven successful formula on that ground.
And then there was James Anderson. It’s one of the unexplained statistics of the game, him having such a poor record at the ground, and I heard on an interview with Sky that Anderson felt a change of ends for him and Stuart Broad really helped him. But, to be honest, I don’t think it was a matter of changing bowling ends but the length at which he bowled. He got his first wicket with a short ball in his first spell but the second spell and all others after that were a lot more impressive. He pitched up a lot more and we saw the end result. That’s the length seamers always need to bowl in the conditions we found at Headingley. It has been a proven successful formula on that ground.
Broad again bowled very well, though he didn’t get as many wickets as Anderson. He has been bowling well for a while now, and has been more consistent of late, importantly, both in England and away from home, which is wonderful for him.
As for Sri Lanka, their lack of lead-up time in England, the short preparation, hurt them. But that is the story of all touring teams these days. No one goes on any tour early and spends a lot of time leading up to a Test series getting acclimatised. That is fine for teams full of experienced cricketers but that is not the case with Sri Lanka, especially in the batting department, and it showed glaringly. It’s a fact of life, of course, the scheduling doesn’t allow for that these days.
Sri Lanka, having lost Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan plus others in recent years, are plainly lacking in experience in the batting order. That is a lot of batting to replace and the top batsmen for Sri Lanka right now are relatively inexperienced. So there is a lot of learning to do for this batting lineup, and this tour, irrespective of the result, should help them.
As for the second Test, at Chester-le-Street, Ben Stokes is out and has been replaced by Chris Woakes. No injury is good and England will miss him but he didn’t contribute greatly in the last Test match and the other bowlers took up the slack nicely. It’s a blow for England, of course, Stokes is a quality cricketer, but it should not be a huge disadvantage for them considering how well they won the first Test match without him doing too much.