Just as the England ODI squad ‘walked the talk’ under Eoin Morgan, so the Test squad are doing it under Joe Root. All the talk of ‘being brave’ and ‘doing things differently’ before the tour of Sri Lanka didn’t convince everyone, but the proof is right before our eyes.
Since shot selection data started to be gathered in 2006 this has been the sweepiest series on record. In 2006 there were a total of 24 reverse sweeps played in all Test matches around the world. England have doubled that amount in this Test alone and have played over 200 sweep shots so far. They have played more sweep shots than any other team in a series, and there is still a Test to come.
They have selected three spinners, omitted Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, resisted the temptation of Ollie Stone’s pace, and picked their best glove-man in Ben Foakes ahead of Jonny Bairstow. Feathers have been seriously and angrily ruffled. And the results, so far, have been right before our eyes.
Playing the sweep shot a lot, of both varieties, does not necessarily signal a revolution, but playing it 24% of the time against three spinners is a watershed moment. Certainly for England, but probably ever. It was a calculated and incisive move, and it deeply unsettled the home team.
As always in cricket, it was a risk/reward decision. The first seven batsmen all perished to it. And England are 278 runs ahead with a wicket in hand heading into day four on a pitch offering increasing turn and uneven bounce. It’s easy to say ‘let’s see what happens’ before offering judgement, but that’s nonsense. Right now, it is clear the ‘bold, new, different’ strategy has worked. The old England would probably have lost this Test match by now. If Sri Lanka chase down 280 in the fourth innings they will be mighty winners.
Wonderful moment in the TalkSport2 commentary box moments after the rain began to fall 30 minutes before the scheduled close of play. Unwilling to wait for our departure, an unusually large black rat scurried beneath our feet desperate for the inevitable biscuit crumbs after a long day behind the microphone. Hence Mark Nicholas completing his day’s summary sitting on the desk with his feet on the chair.
Gareth Batty and Darren Gough were equally unimpressed but Matt Prior took it all in his stride. Having spent his formative years growing up in Johannesburg, the three-time Ashes winner looked at me with a twinkle in his eye: “Don’t worry, boys, me and Manners will find him. He’s not getting away. They taste great on the braai.”
The day’s wet end was an all-too familiar sight after the ODIs in Pallekelle but there are no further, serious interruptions forecast. The monsoon season is ending and the new dawn of England’s Test record overseas is rising.
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