Root regime gets in gear with four-day rout

New-look Eng­land beat Sri Lanka by 211 runs Moeen leads the way in spin­ners’ rush to vic­tory

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - First Test - Scyld Berry CRICKET COR­RE­SPON­DENT in Galle

Nor­mally, an Eng­land vic­tory abroad would be a cause for great cel­e­bra­tion – and there was plenty for Eng­land to cel­e­brate af­ter de­feat­ing Sri Lanka by 211 runs with a day to spare in the first of three Tests, es­pe­cially the de­but of Ben Foakes who was man of the match for his bat­ting and al­most flaw­less wick­et­keep­ing.

It was Eng­land’s first vic­tory in Galle, at the fifth at­tempt, and Galle is to Sri Lanka what the Gabba has been to Aus­tralia, and Karachi to Pak­istan, and what Bar­ba­dos was to West Indies: their bas­tion, al­most as im­preg­nable as Galle Fort which was never stormed as the Dutch made it over to Bri­tain peace­ably.

In the ab­sence of two mem­bers of Eng­land’s old guard – Alas­tair Cook, who has re­tired, and Stu­art Broad, who was dropped to make way for a third spin bowler – this side looked more and more like Joe Root’s team. The cap­tain, hav­ing been far too im­petu­ous in his first in­nings, was ad­mirable there­after as the side grew in his im­age: youth­ful and keen, de­cent and dis­tinctly like­able, at best ad­mirable.

You could say it has been a long while com­ing in that Root was ap­pointed Cook’s suc­ces­sor 18 months ago, but he had no ex­pe­ri­ence of cap­taincy other than a hand­ful of games in charge, and the old guard in­evitably coloured the dress­ing room and its cul­ture. But Root is get­ting there, and for the 6,000 Eng­land sup­port­ers it must have been a de­light that more than off­set the heat to see such a fine team – all the more pol­ished for the ar­rival of Foakes – in the mak­ing.

Foakes dropped one catch when James An­der­son – the old-guard sur­vivor – found the in­side edge of Sri Lanka’s hap­less cap­tain Di­nesh Chandi­mal and Foakes could not hold on. Over­all, how­ever, Foakes brought a pol­ish to the job that nei­ther of his pre­de­ces­sors, Jonny Bairstow and Jos But­tler, more made than be­got­ten, had done; he oiled Eng­land’s wheels.

The fact re­mains, though, that Eng­land had one bad ses­sion – a very bad ses­sion con­sid­er­ing Root had won the toss for the sixth con­sec­u­tive time – and sel­dom in Tests is there an es­cape if the op­po­si­tion are com­pe­tent. Sri Lanka, how­ever, were not com­pe­tent: they came into the game as un­pre­pared as Eng­land, com­pla­cent in their bas­tion, their field­ing was sub-stan­dard, the cap­taincy worse. The crux was the tac­ti­cal er­ror when Chandi­mal pushed his mid-on back to long on and al­lowed But­tler and Foakes to ac­crue sin­gles off the spin­ners with­out any risk.

Hav­ing been al­most in­vited back into the game, Eng­land did al­most ev­ery­thing right: their bat­ting there­after, their field­ing through­out, apart from a dropped chance by An­der­son at mid­wicket and Ben Stokes at slip, and their var­ied bowl­ing, which fea­tured for once three de­cent spin­ners. Moeen Ali fin­ished with his best Test fig­ures abroad, eight for 137, and looks all the more set­tled, not as first-choice spin­ner of course (he does not want that ti­tle) but as se­nior con­sul­tant to his two ju­niors.

Moeen helped him­self to three of the four left-han­ders, while the fourth, Ran­gana Herath, was run out in his last act be­fore re­tire­ment.

Moeen had more than a help­ing hand in an­other wicket, that of Kusal Mendis, who smacked Leach over Moeen at mid-off for four. Moeen did not drop back, and next ball Mendis ex­cit­edly took the bait, ran down the pitch and skied to mid-off.

It does not au­gur well for a Sri Lanka come­back that none of their bats­men had the ap­pli­ca­tion to reach 60 in ei­ther in­nings. An­gelo Mathews man­aged a 50 in each, but hav­ing been sacked as one-day cap­tain, he is not a pic­ture of en­chant­ment. Chandi­mal was hand­i­capped by his groin strain, but even if fit he might not have got a bat on one from Jack Leach that pitched leg and hit the top of off stump.

Root, who knows Adil Rashid so well as a York­shire team-mate, threw a scrap to his leg-spin­ner to boost his con­fi­dence by let­ting him bowl at the tail: Rashid had lapsed into long-hop mode, prob­a­bly un­der the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion, when the top-or­der bats­men were in. Leach might there­fore have fin­ished with more than five wick­ets.

Root led his play­ers in hon­our­ing Herath at the end as chival­rously as Vi­rat Kohli had done to Cook at the Oval, and said in his speech that he would be re­lieved at Herath’s re­tire­ment as the most suc­cess­ful of all Test left-arm spin­ners had dis­missed him in both in­nings.

Herath has il­lus­trated the eter­nal ver­i­ties of Test cricket by bowl­ing as left-arm spin­ners have done since Vic­to­rian times (with scarcely de­tectable vari­a­tions of flight and spin) and demon­strat­ing that in cricket, un­like many sports to­day, all shapes and sizes can suc­ceed.

All over: Ben Foakes runs out Ran­gana Herath to com­plete Eng­land’s vic­tory

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