The record books will show that England recorded a seven-wicket victory over hosts Sri Lanka in the first Test at Galle and their opening international game of 2021, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. It looks as though this was an easy win for the tourists.
England captain Joe Root hadn’t made a Test century in over a year, so his first innings knock of 228 was both welcome and a relief. They made 421 in response to Sri Lanka’s 135 and when the hosts came into bat again, 359 was all they could muster.
Thanks to the superb spin bowling of Dom Bess and unsung Headingley hero Jack Leach taking five-for in respective innings, England set themselves an easy 74 to win. Only then, an issue that has consistently reared its ugly head struck.
Perhaps because Sri Lanka had nothing to lose from a virtually unwinnable position, they sent in left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya. He had got plenty of joy on the Galle pitch when picking up three wickets of England’s top order in the first innings.
When bowling again, his orthodox spin left the tourists on an embarrassing 12-2 before Root got ran out. Embuldeniya removed both of England’s openers, Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley, in each innings without either hitting double figures.
This year culminates in The Ashes away for Root and company, and their recent record Down Under is not good at all. England don’t have a reliable opening batsman and this was again exposed even in victory.
Sri Lanka Series Opener Shows Both Sides of England on Road to Ashes
While they tackled Sri Lanka, Australia have been locked in an absorbing series against India. The outcome of that could have gone either way as two of cricket’s top Test nations did battle.
Time is running out for Root, the selectors and England head coach Chris Silverwood to find a formula with the top order that can at least be competitive. The side against Sri Lanka was not at full strength, but those absent occupy other places and roles in the XI.
With all-rounder Ben Stokes and record wicket-taker James Anderson to come back into the England team, the problem is that there hasn’t been a batsman with the required discipline for Test cricket to open since Alastair Cook retired. This is one of the chief reasons why Australia remain such strong favourites in the cricket betting odds available on the forthcoming Ashes series.
If Root can build on his massive score in Galle and put the aberration of his second innings run out behind him, then a return to form boosts England hopes. He usually bats fourth, but there has been a worrying tendency for the team to rely on individuals in recent years.
Stokes’s legendary last stand at Headingley with Leach during the last Ashes series springs to mind. While England remains something of a Jekyll and Hyde side in Test cricket, they are going to have their work cut out for them against top opposition.