England won 11 out of the 12 sessions in the Test match after losing the first one emphatically, taking lunch at 113-5 after winning the toss and choosing to bat first. It might be easy to look back on your mistakes with whimsy once they’re definitely irrelevant, but Joe Root was serious – and had a good point – when he said: “We wanted to do this a bit differently in several ways and we might have been 50-5. At least we were 113-5.”
England’s approach was different – as it had to be after 13 consecutive overseas Tests without a victory – and they were true to their convictions. It was a more emphatic endorsement of their ‘new approach’ than anyone dared imagine, and a result which will live long in the memory.
Root was quick to remind his players of their debt to the supporters in the immediate aftermath of the result and gathered them for a brief victory lap of thanks rather than celebration. The hardcore Barmy Army gathered outside the changing rooms for a couple of hours after the match ended to sing their praise songs while Rangana Herath was still being felicitated by countless politicians and dignitaries. The poor man looked thoroughly exhausted by the time he finally made into the pavilion.
Ben Foakes remained unequivocally modest and suitably overwhelmed by his man of the match award but Moeen Ali was in no doubt that his eight wickets never made him a contender: “There were a few guys well ahead of me. Ben’s hundred was exceptional and I thought he kept wicket brilliantly throughout, and Keaton was also well ahead of me with his 146,” Moeen said with characteristic modesty.
Root said he “didn’t want to think about” the selection nightmares which lie ahead of the Pallekelle Test match in Kandy next week. “I’m looking forward to a few days to relax and enjoy the win.” But they are problems which he readily admitted were “the most difficult of his career.” They may well be the most difficult any England captain has faced for several decades – mostly because they involve fitting 13 men into 11 rather than finding 11 good ones.
If it was South Africa then Foakes would simple be left out. Their rule is simple. An injury replacement is exactly that – until the incumbent is fit again. But England won’t omit a man-of-the-match debutant.
Jonny Bairstow and Stuart Broad will expect to fit into the next starting XI. But for whom?
The selectors may end up feeling like this item on the hotel breakfast menu this morning by the time they make their minds up.
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