England captain Joe Root is relishing the prospect of a difficult selection meeting after the Test team recorded their first overseas victory for more than two years.
Root’s side finally halted a 13-game winless streak on foreign soil with a commanding 211-run defeat of Sri Lanka at Galle, emphatically reversing expectations at a venue where the home side typically thrive.
As captain, Root was buoyed by the collective effort over four days by the Indian Ocean. Debutant wicketkeeper Ben Foakes was named man of the match for his crucial century and tidy glovework but Keaton Jennings’ meticulous 146 not out in the second innings and Moeen Ali’s best match figures on the road, 8-137, were equally indispensable.
Sam Curran and Jack Leach also made noteworthy contributions, leaving Root to balance post-match celebration with considerations for next week’s clash in Kandy.
Jonny Bairstow, the established keeper, is expected to be fit from ankle trouble by then and 123-cap paceman Stuart Broad, dropped here for the first time in six years, will be angling for a recall if the pitch offers encouragement.
“It’s a really special feeling and it’s obviously great to see guys come into the team and really take their opportunities,” said Root, after Sri Lanka were dismissed for 250.
“The way we played throughout the four days, with everyone contributing and playing a part is really pleasing.
“It’s great to see the strength in depth in this squad of players. We’ve some difficult selections ahead which I’m not complaining about. I’m going to enjoy that meeting.
“It is going to be tough, but that’s what you want. You want guys performing and to make those tough calls. Whether that’s leaving people out, keeping the same team, shuffling the pack slightly, we’ll have to wait and see.”
There was a gentle reminder too, that egos will not be massaged.
It’s a really special feeling and it’s obviously great to see guys come into the team and really take their opportunities.Joe Root
“It’s about performing as a group, not making it about yourself, being involved in the XI,” he said. “The real achievement is to be part of this squad and to hopefully go on to win this tour.”
Foakes suggested he would be ready to buy into that ethic, even hinting he would stand aside willingly if a fit-again Bairstow was preferred.
The very idea of benching a man who played the Sri Lankan conditions with such poise and has the potential to be a world beater behind the stumps might appear frivolous from the outside, but having joined the trip as injury cover he is making no demands.
“Jonny, I think, will potentially be fit so I guess he’s the number one,” said the Surrey man.
“If I (only) play one game, I’m quite happy with that one. To be honest if you asked me two weeks ago I was having six months off so just to be sat here now is unbelievable. The big thing for me is just making my debut, being able to say you’re an England Test cricketer. Regardless of what’s happened that’s such a special feeling that no one can take away.”
Whatever solutions Root and head coach Trevor Bayliss come up with in the coming days they will be hoping they lead to a rare series victory on the road. Since beating South Africa on the road in 2015/16 there have been failed attempts in Bangladesh, India, Australia and New Zealand.
“It’s not just us, like we’re the only side that struggles away from home, it’s across the board in Test cricket,” said Root.
“That makes it even sweeter when you do come to a very difficult venue, like Galle, and manage to win. Hopefully we can build on this and it’s not just a one-off for us. We can go to Kandy with huge amounts of confidence and look to still improve and get better.”
Retiring hero Rangana Herath bowed out in disappointing fashion, run out sprawling to make his ground, but was clapped on and off the field in a show of respect by his opponents.
Among those celebrating in the middle just four were present in October 2016 at England’s last away win in Chittagong – Root, Stokes, Moeen and Rashid.