England captain Joe Root has posted menacing statement of intent in Sri Lanka - Chris Waters
England’s firefighter, the cricketing equivalent of Red Adair, surveyed the smouldering blaze of a score of 38-3 in pursuit of 74 for victory and coolly extinguished any hope of a Sri Lankan win on a spinning pitch.
Bairstow and Dan Lawrence, the 23-year-old debutant, required just 9.2 overs on day five to settle matters, Bairstow ending on 35 to seal a seven-wicket triumph.
It was good stuff from the Yorkshireman, who made 82 runs in the match on his return to Test cricket after a near 13-month absence.
Fellow Yorkies Joe Root (a double-hundred in the first innings) and Dom Bess (eight wickets in the match) did not do three bad either.
Sri Lanka 0, Yorkshire 1.
We should not, of course, get carried away.
Post-match interviews were peppered with such terms as “work in progress” and “not the finished article”.
England, for instance, might, when they look back on it, feel that they should have scored even more runs in their first innings (they were dismissed for 421 having been 372-4), and that they might not have suffered their fourth evening wobble, when they slipped to 14-3 – which would have been 14-4 had the hosts taken a chance to run out Bairstow.
Sri Lanka are not a world-beating side – watching them now without the likes of Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Muralitharan is like watching footage of The Three Tenors without Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti.
But the old adage that you can only beat what is in front of you is as true now as it ever was, and Sri Lanka showed enough in the second half of the contest to suggest that their first innings horror show (135 all-out in 46.1 overs, which cost them the game) was not really a demonstration of their true colours.
One would expect more of a “90-minute performance”, to slip into footballing parlance, in the second Test in Galle on Friday, although England look the better collective as they aim to take the series 2-0.
Caveats established, the evidence of improvement is clear to see.
This was England’s fourth successive away Test win – the first time they have done that since the 1950s.
It was their fifth consecutive Test win in Sri Lanka – and their second in succession in Galle.
It was achieved without such key players as Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Ollie Pope and Rory Burns.
And it belied a lack of preparation going into the game – England had only one day of warm-up cricket between themselves – as the tourists put a dent in a sequence that had seen them lose the opening Test match in five of their previous six series.
Above all, though, the game saw a menacing return to run-scoring form by Root, who started a vital year for his batting and captaincy in emphatic style.
With 17 Tests between now and early January, including an Ashes series Down Under and home and away engagements with India, the spotlight will be on the 30-year-old at a potentially defining point in his career.
Root goes into the second Test with his reputation as one of the world’s best batsmen re-emphasised to anyone who had begun to doubt his powers after no Test hundred during 2020.
His fourth double-century in Tests rightly earned him the player-of-the-match award in Galle and represented a significant statement of intent.
Elsewhere, a significant statement of potential was seen from Lawrence, who looks to be made of the right material.
Stuart Broad – who bowled superbly, by the way, in sapping conditions – said afterwards that Lawrence looked as if he had played 50 Tests, so impressive was his talent and temperament.
Again, we should not get too carried away.
One recalls a couple of dodgy shots – dancing down the track, on one occasion, and lucky to get away with it – during Lawrence’s first innings 73, aberrations that might have been punished more heavily by India and Australia.
But one can normally tell when a player looks at home at the highest level, and Lawrence does not seem like a fellow to be fazed.
Ditto Bess, as Yorkshire helped England to start 2021 in impressive fashion.
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