Kandy looking sweet for pace bowlers
A move to higher altitude will refresh Anderson, Curran and Stokes, writes Scyld Berry in Galle
After England’s cricketers stood tall in Galle, Kandy could be dandy. Not since the early years of Sri Lankan Test cricket have England asserted such superiority. It would be their first series victory here since 2001 if they win the second Test, which starts on Wednesday.
It is a long trek from Galle on the south-west tip of Sri Lanka to Kandy in the central highlands – England decided to do it in two stages, by driving to Colombo one day then up to Kandy the next – but for the tourists it will be worth their while. Nothing whatsoever at the Galle stadium encouraged England’s pace bowlers – they took only three wickets between them – but the Pallekele ground on the outskirts of Kandy is bound to offer more to James Anderson, Sam Curran and Ben Stokes.
Altitude for a start. Kandy nestles in the hills at 1,500 feet. Not so high as the finest tea plantations nearby, such as Nuwara Eliya at nearly 6,000 feet, but the reduction in temperature will be almost as refreshing as a cup of Ceylon tea, which was brought from Assam after the coffee plantations were wiped out by a fungus in the 19th century.
Local knowledge also anticipates dew of a morning as further encouragement for England’s pace bowlers. Only six Tests have been staged at the Pallekele stadium, erected to replace the Asgiriya ground, which belonged to a school, and only one Test at this monsoon time of year, the first in 2010.
So there is no definitive experience to go by – but every prospect England will out-strip Sri Lanka in pace as well as every other department now Rangana Herath has retired.
Stuart Broad could return to the side if there is a lot of rain around, in place of Adil Rashid, who lapsed too often in length when England were bowling out Sri Lanka on the fourth day, or Jack Leach. But if moisture in some form – whether rain or dew – is not going to affect the Pallekele pitch, there will be no need to change the balance of England’s attack.
Besides, the refreshed England side who won for the first time in Galle, by 211 runs, looked lively and full of potential in the field. Only Anderson remained of the three veterans who played England’s last Test at the Oval – Alastair Cook having retired, Broad omitted – and whatever the benefits brought by an old guard, they are not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed keenness in the field.
Ben Foakes, in replacing Jonny Bairstow, added to this liveliness. If he was not necessarily more effective behind the stumps – Bairstow dropped a catch to his left in the Oval Test against India but over the past two years his misses have been minimal – Foakes’s fluency of movement and smoothness of glovework have added to the choreographic effect of Root’s team, which cannot fail to impress opponents as well as their 5,000 or so travelling supporters. If Bairstow returns to the side for the second Test, it can only be as the No3 batsman.
Overall, therefore, Root’s England have taken a sudden but distinct step forward in their evolution. A year ago in Australia, Root was one of the youngest players: even rookies such as Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan were older than the captain, in addition to all the established players. Now Root is one of the oldest, and he looks unmistakably the captain now – the eye is not drawn to see how the old guard are reacting to his decisions – as he is fashioning a team in his own image.
Their opponents have it all to do. Marco Polo observed that no island of comparable size is “better circumstanced” than Sri Lanka, but the Venetian traveller would have reservations about the current state of their cricket.
Their board has often overseen a litany of dubious decisions, unpaid hotel bills, unpaid players and political interference; the difference now is that there are no great cricketers to rise above the system.
Sri Lanka’s standard in the field was often appalling, whether it was the lack of athleticism of some players, or the questionable captaincy which let England escape from 103 for five, or the ill-discipline which led to Sri Lanka wasting their two unsuccessful reviews in the first 10 overs.
Their fine 21-year-old fast bowler, Lahiru Kumara, was sent home for misbehaviour on the eve of the match. When Dinesh Chandimal hobbled off and Suranga Lakmal took over – and pace bowlers in Sri Lanka have more pressing matters than captaincy to attend to – there was no visible diminution in the team’s intensity, because there was so little to diminish.
Great cricketers raise the standards of their side, whether they are captain or not. After Mahela Jayawardene had led Sri Lanka, and was standing at slip, a newcomer at short fine leg who conceded an easy single was given a withering stare. He misfielded again
– and was dropped for the next game.
Muttiah Muralitharan, whose 800 Test wickets are beyond the range even of Anderson, on 565, and Sanath Jayasuriya, though now charged by the International Cricket Council’s AntiCorruption Unit, were succeeded as great cricketers by Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. Now their cupboard is bare of any, and England have only to help themselves to what remains.
Great cricketers raise standards of their side whether they are captain or not
Happy return: England won the fourth ODI at Kandy (above) and head there for the second Test, when conditions will suit Ben Stokes (right) better than Galle