England promised to play differently and deliver a ‘new’ brand of Test cricket on this tour and, boy, have they delivered. The line between aggressive and reckless has been almost invisible at times but can only be judged by the results. Two-nil up and in a phenomenal position to make it a clean-sweep after just two days of the third Test match at the Sinhalese Sports Club on Saturday.
The tourists lost 7-101 to be bowled out for 336 but then made that collapse look like an exercise in stability when they induced the home side to lose 9-67, crashing from 173-1 to 240 all out. It was started by Ben Stokes who, contrary to public and occasionally commentary perception, has been anything but a reluctant bowler in the series so far.
Stokes was itching to bowl in both Galle and Pallekelle but Joe Root stuck to the new plan and allowed his three spinners to do the work, and very successfully too. Only when things were looking particularly bleak did he unleash the firebrand, to great effect. With batsmen hopping about at the other end, Adil Rashid suddenly looked (and was) more effective than he has ever been for his country in a Test match before.
A likely deficit became a lead of 96 and England were in complete control, again. There will be times in the future when a more conservative approach, with bat and ball, will be appropriate and there will always be a need for an attritional game plan, but the ‘attack whenever possible’ approach in this series has been invigorating, immensely watchable and successful. And Keaton Jennings has become the best short leg fielder in the world.
Highlight of the day, for me, was Michael Atherton on TalkSport2 commentary when Joe Root dropped his second catch at first slip off Stuart Broad: “Joe obviously believes that first slip is the best place to captain a team, as I did. You can speak to the wicket keeper and second slip and there is nowhere better from which to strategise. Ideally, however, you need to be able to catch the ball, too.”
After seven weeks on tour it is both normal and natural for behaviour to become a little unhinged. Fortunately, there are fewer and fewer players who play every format so the ‘heavy duty’ cricketers can be protected from the worst excesses of cabin fever and ‘long tour syndrome.’ This England team have shown absolutely no signs of having one foot on the plane home and clearly remain focused on a clean sweep.
Most members of the commentary team, however, are fraying at the edges. Talk of airline lounges and departure times are common. But there is enough experience to know it is how your finish a tour, not how you start it, which matters most. Nonetheless, behaviour becomes erratic for those on either side of the boundary rope. (Note Jonny Bairstow’s radical persecution complex following his wonderful hundred on the opening day.)
I took a bunch of interesting photographs today and then accidentally deleted them before I could use them. A colleague who I am sharing an apartment suddenly developed a craving for McDonalds (because he didn’t know it existed in Sri Lanka.) It resulted in him ordering, and eating, four triple cheeseburgers for dinner.
Anyway, in the absence of Keaton Jennings reliving his remarkable four catches at short leg and various other sights in an around the SSC, here is a photograph of me about to scuba dive in Zanzibar and one of my daughters para-sailing in Goa. And another of me doing something new for the first time in 30 years of covering international cricket. Going to the gym. The entrance to the state-of-the-art SSC gym is five yards from the TalkSport commentary box. It has showers and a comprehensive view of proceedings on the field. Too good to miss for half an hour.
Presumably the health warning sign had something to do with it.
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