The sub-continent has never been a friendly place for English cricket teams – just like England’s never really helped sub-continental teams. Ian Botham even famously suggested that Pakistan was the kind of place you send your mother-in-law for a month. But if England’s cricket series against Sri Lanka is anything to go by, there are signs that that may be changing.
As I write this, England are closing in on a test series whitewash against Sri Lanka in their own backyard. With two days to go, the Lankans need 274 to win against a strong English side. And given how poor the Asian side has played, that seems like a tall ask.
A lot of factors have gone into why England has performed so well. Yes, the fact remains that Sri Lanka is not the mightiest of teams and is in fact, quite bad at cricket right now – frankly speaking – compared to years gone by when they had stalwarts like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
However, that should not take away from what England have done right in this series and further beyond. Keaton Jennings – who made his debut at international level two years ago against India– has been very impressive this series mainly because of his performance with the bat as an opening batsman for England. His innings of 146 in the first test helped England to victory there while his fielding has also been extremely brilliant.
Another standout performer is debutant Ben Foakes who also scored a century on debut. There were some question marks about including him in the playing eleven ahead of Jos Buttler but Foakes proved his worth this tournament. England have been good in all departments and have looked like an overall good cricketing side. Jonny Bairstow and Ben Foakes both average above 60 runs in an innings in test matches while Jennings and Buttler average more than 40 runs.
On the other end, Adil Rashid and Chris Woakes have done really well with the ball on somewhat unforgiving Sri Lankan pitches. Rashid had 6 wickets at an economy rate of 5.14 during the ODI series while Woakes himself was 4 wickets at 5.68 runs per over. The England Cricket Board also needs to be commended for their work with the England Lions team. Equivalent to a developmental side, The Lions have sent practice sides over the years to play in the sub-continent. Lions cricket hasn’t been looked at favourably by county cricket but it does help with youngsters gaining experience abroad in the longer formats of the game.
Among the team that took part in the second test against Sri Lanka, only Jimmy Anderson, at the age of 36, has not pulled on a Lions cap and that’s because he is older than the programme itself. Four of the younger crop of England players have prior experience of Sri Lankan conditions thanks to the Lions tour of 2016-17: Keaton Jennings, Jack Leach, Ben Foakes and Sam Curran. Jennings was the captain of that team which had a tough tour back then with the test series being drawn 1-1 and losing the ODI series 3-2. That experience has undoubtedly been of help in this series.
This tour may not be the tough test that England are looking for in the tune-up to the World Cup next year but it does help to find out if youngsters are up to the challenge of playing international cricket. This has been a good tour for England and they should look to carry the momentum into the West Indies tour coming up in 2019.