England’s last visit to Sri Lanka was touted as a breakthrough moment for Joe Root as Test captain, and with preparations already underway for this year’s Ashes series, their subcontinent return could prove just as significant.
It was a new-look England side that featured in Sri Lanka in November 2018. Former captain Sir Alastair Cook was out of the fold following his retirement, while Stuart Broad was left out for the first two Tests, replacing James Anderson for the third.
There was uncertainty about how the tourists would perform given the side’s relative inexperience, but the result was emphatic – a first series whitewash in Asia, secured through an aggressive and enterprising style of cricket.
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First Test – England 342 & 322/6d beat Sri Lanka 203 & 250 by 211 runs
England secured their first away victory in 14 Test matches with a comprehensive 211-run triumph in Galle – Root’s first away from home as captain.
Ben Foakes (107) made a brilliant century on debut, despite off-spinner Dilruwan Perera picking up 5-75.
Moeen Alli (4-66) starred with the ball as Sri Lanka succumbed to 203 all out, before Keaton Jennings cemented England’s advantage with an unbeaten 146.
Ben Stokes contributed with 62 as Sri Lanka chased 462 for victory, and although Angelo Mathews made his second fifty of the match, the hosts were skittled for 250; Ali passing the milestone of 150 Test victims with another four-wicket haul.
Jack Leach also chipped in with figures of 3-60 as England wrapped up proceedings with a day to spare, to secure their first win in overseas Tests since October 2016.
Second Test – England 290 & 346 beat Sri Lanka 336 & 243 by 57 runs
Leach’s maiden Test five-wicket haul helped England to their first series win in Asia since 2012, as a record 38 wickets were snared by spinners in Kandy.
The tourists were faced with a 46-run deficit as Sri Lanka made 336 in response to England’s 290, with Sam Curran (64) and James Anderson putting on 60 for the final wicket, following Jos Buttler’s quick-fire 63.
Having starred in the first Test, Perera again inflicted the damage with figures of 4-61, before Roshen Silva (85) recorded his fifth Test half-century to give Sri Lanka the advantage.
Dimuth Karunaratne (63) and Dhananjaya de Silva (59) also helped establish the hosts’ slender lead, yet this was soon eroded following Root’s magnificent innings of 124.
Root’s stunning knock was the catalyst for England’s comeback, aided by half-centuries from Foakes (65*) and his Surrey team-mate Rory Burns (59), as Sri Lanka embarked on a run-chase of 301 to level the series.
Mathews (88) spearheaded Sri Lanka’s reply alongside Karunaratne, who made his second fifty of the match, but Leach (5-83) starred in tandem with Ali (4-72) to guide England home, as the hosts relinquished their last four wickets for just 17 runs.
Third Test – England 336 & 230 beat Sri Lanka 240 & 284 by 42 runs
Jonny Bairstow marked his return from injury with a century as England defied a spirited fightback from the hosts to wrap up a series whitewash in Colombo.
Bairstow produced a brilliant knock of 110, while Stokes (57) registered his second fifty of the series as England posted 336 having opted to bat first for a third consecutive Test.
In reply, Adil Rashid (5-49) cleaned up Sri Lanka’s top order to give the visitors a commanding buffer, despite half-centuries from Karunaratne (83) and De Silva (73).
England were floundering at 39-4 in their second innings, but Buttler led the rear-guard with a battling 64 to set Sri Lanka 327 for victory, defying the best efforts of Perera (5-88), who continued his prolific form to take his series tally to 22 wickets.
Trevor Bayliss’ side were in total control when Sri Lanka were reduced to 82-5, although Kusal Mendis (86) and Silva (65) halted their charge with a 102 partnership.
Control was restored when Mendis was dismissed 14 runs short of his hundred, and Malinda Pushpakumara’s unbeaten 42 ultimately came in vain, as Leach and Ali picked up four wickets apiece to complete England’s first clean sweep away from home since 1963.
Stokes and Jofra Archer have both been rested for the two-match series, while Root will also be without Surrey duo Burns and Ollie Pope.
Burns remains at home ahead of the birth of his first child, and Pope will not be risked as he continues his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery, despite making an unbeaten half-century in the intra-squad warm-up game.
Leach and Ali, who claimed 18 wickets apiece in 2018, will return to join Dom Bess in England’s three-pronged spin attack, although Ali remains in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Sri Lanka, therefore he’ll miss the opening Test.
Foakes and Bairstow earned recalls having featured prominently two years ago, while Dan Lawrence – renowned for his pedigree against spin – is the solitary uncapped member of the 16-man squad.
The 3-0 win in Sri Lanka provided a blueprint for the ‘new’ England away from home, although this momentum was stifled following away defeats to West Indies and New Zealand.
However, their 3-1 success against South Africa in January of 2020 provided further illustration of their potential, and with England’s latest trip to Australia looming, opportunity knocks – particularly in the absence of some key men.
Watch the first Test between Sri Lanka and England, from Galle, live on Sky Sports Cricket from 4am on Thursday.
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