Welcome, to what will hopefully be a new series on Inside Edge. What Did We Learn In... will cover each England tour, and summarise what went well, and what questions still need to be answered. First up, England's two test tour of Sri Lanka...
Well, that went quite well? A 2-0 win, in difficult conditions, with two star players missing (Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer), and others out as well (Rory Burns, Ollie Pope and Moeen Ali). India will prove a much trickier challenge, and my colleagues Rob Rush and Sean Wilson will have the preview up soon, with an IEC picks to come as well. For what it's worth, I'd be happy if we avoided a 4-0 drubbing, given India have lost just one test at home since England's victorious tour in 2012!!
So, the key takeaways from Sri Lanka:
Joe Root is very good. The series, for me, drove home how underappreciated Root is. He averages a tick under 50, is a brilliant player of spin, and already stands as England's fourth highest test run-scorer. By the end of the year, he'll be second only to Cook (15 tests to go in 2021, with just 652 runs needed to go to No.2). Also, as captain, Root has a 100% win record in Asia (I doubt that'll last). I wrote a few weeks ago that this year would define his career, and with 228 and 186, he has started it in the best possible way. The most encouraging thing for me was the ease at which he did it. Of his four dismissals, two were run-outs, and one was hitting out when batting with the tail. India will be much tougher, but it's great to see him in brilliant form.
We have a mild spin problem. Last time in Sri Lanka, Ali, Adil Rashid and Jack Leach proved a brilliant trio. This time, Dom Bess and Leach were underwhelming. They did, in the end, take wickets, but lacked consistency, which is crucial for test spinners. I think Leach is the better of the two, but he didn't bowl as well as I expected, as hitting the same spot over and over is one of his main talents. And while Bess has potential, he is a long way off the finished article, with far too many bad balls. The India squad features Bess and Leach, with Ali, who was looked out of form for years. Mason Crane, Matt Parkinson and Amar Virdi are all reserves. There is talent, but no quality, depth, but no reassurance. I doubt Kohli and co will struggle against our spinners. The solution-stop fining counties for producing turning pitches!
Jos Buttler is good...for now. Buttler had a good series with bat and gloves. It's the first time we've ever been able to say that about him in tests, and it feels good. But, he will only play the first test in India, and Twitter's hero (sorry) Ben Foakes will (likely) keep. Buttler, while he was been brilliant for five tests, and looks to be finally a reliable test cricketer, will hope he can maintain this form, as it was something he didn't do going from his impressive return in 2018 to his dismal 2019.
Broad and Anderson will be good, forever? Just brilliant, right? Both were economical, took wickets, and not on a green English pitch with cloud cover and a Dukes' ball! They remain England's best ever cricketers, and we can only hope that Anderson goes on forever, and Broad retains this un-critiquable (he's bowling so well I'm making up words!) form that he's had for over a year now.
World cricket's divide will only grow. I didn't expect England to win 2-0 quite so easily. I know that, in both chases, Sri Lanka made us wobble, but this didn't feel competitive. Embuldeniya picked up 13 of the 27 wickets to fall, which is a worry for the Sri Lankan attack. Twice, in the first innings of the first, and second innings of the second test, they batted like a club side who wanted to go in for tea. Like the West Indies, Sri Lanka have decent players, but lack the resources, investment, and game time, to make them a formidable opponent. The rise of t20 contributes to this, but, let's be clear: The ECB and CA are complicit, and they know they are, in allowing the BCCI to run the game, and the ICC as a cash cow. Test cricket is far too often only competitive because England don't play as well as they should, not because other sides are equal to England. Now, for a statement so meaningless, because we all know nothing will change: This imbalance has to change.
Anyway, there it is! What we learnt in Sri Lanka. In sum, England have some good players, the divide in cricket is bad, and we'll lose in India. So, when we do lose, come back to What Did We Learn In... to read about why we did! (Spoiler, it'll be a lack of runs and a lack of wickets!)