Root profits from bold tactics and multi-layered attack
Captain shows careful man-management to exploit variety among England’s bowlers
Joe Root waited by the boundary rope for each of his bowlers, slapping them on the back one by one as they walked off after ripping out Sri Lanka for 203.
Root recognised this was a team effort, a big moment for a young side who have endured awful days on the road in recent years.
Battered in India, pummelled in Australia – the past two winters have been dismal and England’s bowlers have taken 20 wickets in a Test on the road only once since beating Bangladesh in October 2016, and even that was in a defeat (by India in Visakhapatnam).
They are halfway there in this game already after the seamers and spinners, led by Moeen Ali, combined potently to make the most of a good first-innings total, a rarity in recent times.
The monsoon stayed away and the Indian Ocean shimmered under a hot sun for the first time since the tour started to produce a day that normally melts English hopes rather than those of Sri Lanka. But England’s multi-layered attack contains the full house of right-arm seam, left-arm swing, off-spin, leg-spin, left-arm finger spin and the sheer aggression of Ben Stokes with his bouncers, cutters and snarl. Root always has options so bowlers can be rotated and rested.
Sam Curran justified his selection ahead of Stuart Broad by striking with his ninth ball, the reward for pitching it up and swinging it into the pads, the job he was picked to do. James Anderson made batsmen play at every delivery with his precision before coming back for a five-over spell of cutters to a tight, close field that squeezed Sri Lanka just as they were building a partnership.
Root showed his manmanagement skills, choosing to bring Jack Leach on ahead of more experienced spinners, a confidence boost for a bowler playing only his second Test.
Leach ragged his first ball past the outside edge and quickly looked like he was playing on a
turner in Taunton. It took 83 balls to concede a boundary and his two wickets could have been more, but he was happy enough with his second, jubilantly shouting “caught Buttler bowled Leach” as he celebrated with his old teammate from Somerset under-11 days.
Root backed it all up with imaginative fields but did not over-attack or get carried away, partly because he knows his two most senior spinners do not like crowding the bat with fielders, and Leach is inexperienced. Sharp fielding helped, too, and Root was at the forefront, fielding on his knees with a helmet at short second slip because of the low bounce.
Last winter, Moeen managed only three wickets in six Tests and was relieved when he was told in Christchurch that he was being dropped for the first time in his England career. But he now appears to be enjoying his role as the father figure of the spin attack that shared eight wickets.
Adil Rashid is his close friend but always trails behind, living in his shadow like a schoolboy
allowing the cooler kid to do the talking.
Leach has found Moeen a generous source of advice and a welcoming presence. “A gun off-spinner” is how he described Moeen. “I can’t thank Mo and Rash enough for how relaxed they made me feel and helped me. It is a great group to be involved in, we are always bouncing ideas off each other even out in the middle,” he said. “We had clear idea of how we wanted to do things, the fields we wanted, how we wanted to bowl.”
Moeen bowled a better line than Sri Lanka’s spinners and so threatened both edges of the bat. Rashid was clever with variations, holding back his googly until faced with tail-enders, bowling it only once in his first seven overs. He has six Tests this winter on spinning tracks to prove he is a Test bowler.