Sri Lanka in England 2014

Batting offers promise but captain concerns

A new-look England side came within one wicket of winning at Lord's and two balls of salvaging a drawn series at Headingley, but while there were promising signs there also remain significant worries

George Dobell

June 25, 2014

Comments: 50 | Text size: A | A

Liam Plunkett's celebrations were in full force, England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 1st day, June 20, 2014
Liam Plunkett brought an added dimension to England's attack on his return to Test cricket © Getty Images
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8

Gary Ballance (201 runs at 67.00)

An excellent century at Lord's - solid when required and accelerating when appropriate - underlined the impression that Ballance should enjoy a long career at this level. He also registered a half-century at Headingley and, if he experienced second-innings failure, there is mitigation in the fact that he was asked to bat in the unfamiliar position of No. 3 to accommodate more senior players. Fitness permitting - and he appears to be growing fitter all the time - Ballance is a certainty for the first Test against India.

Liam Plunkett (43 runs at 14.33 and 11 wickets at 30.09)

An impressive return to Test cricket after a seven-year absence. Plunkett hurried the Sri Lankan batsmen with his pace and bounce even on the sluggish Lord's surface, before taking nine wickets at Headingley. While he did play one of the worst strokes imaginable by a nightwatchman at the end of the fourth day of that game, he was picked as a bowler and, by demonstrating unusual pace and hostility, he offered England an edge they have not had since Steven Finn was at his best.

7

Moeen Ali (162 runs at 54.00 and 3 wickets at 60.33)

Moeen proved his worth by batting throughout the final day of the series as England battled to save the game. His century was a masterpiece of elegance and restraint. He needed the innings: a pleasing 48 on debut had been followed by two low scores brought about by loose strokes and his place was beginning to look fragile. He had hardly been trusted to bowl. While he did enjoy one good spell on the third afternoon at Headingley, claiming two good wickets, it was hard to avoid the impression that he did not enjoy the full confidence of his captain and, on the fourth day, he struggled to contain the Sri Lankan batsmen. Still, during that third afternoon, as his confidence grew, he unveiled what is believed to be the first doosra delivered by an England player in Test cricket. He is clearly not the finished article, with the ball in particular, but he did enough to suggest that, if England persevere with his bowling, he may repay their faith. Whether he is ready to go into a Test series against India as the No. 1 spinner is debatable, though.

James Anderson (12 wickets at 21.50)

It may be that Anderson has become a victim of his own consistency. He was very good at Lord's and finished the series as the top wicket-taker on either side as well as being named England's man of the series. But, so reliant upon his excellence have England become - even when he has not taken wickets he has generally remained reliable - that his under-par second innings display at Headingley was shocking. It may be that his captain asks too much of him: Cook routinely asks for eight overs at a time, sometimes more, and it may be that, aged 31, Anderson is no longer able to shoulder such a burden in back-to-back Tests.

Stuart Broad (75 runs at 18.75 and 7 wickets at 34.57)

While never at his absolute best, Broad bowled well enough at Lord's and almost won the game for his side with his final spell. He also produced a valuable innings in the first Test. But, at Headingley, when his captain needed him most, he went missing, perhaps paying for a lack of cricket ahead of the Tests due to his knee injury. Fears remain that his workload in all formats is diminishing his effectiveness and his long-term future.


Joe Root became the fourth-youngest double-centurion for England, England v Sri Lanka, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 2nd day, June 13, 2014
Joe Root appeared more comfortable back in the middle order © AFP
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6

Sam Robson (171 runs at 42.75)

One good innings in the series. Robson appeared understandably nervous on debut at Lord's, drawn into poking at one he should have left in the first innings and being beaten between bat and pad in the second. But he looked much more solid at Headingley, registering a maiden Test century in only his second game and displaying the patience and discipline that could serve him well at this level. He squandered a good start in the second innings, though, pushing hard at one he could have left. Sure to start the series against India, but has not done enough to cement his place.

Joe Root (259 runs at 86.33)

Back in the No. 5 position in which he appears most comfortable, Root registered a maiden Test double-century at Lord's. For a man who had been dropped at the end of the Ashes tour, it was an important contribution and cemented his place in the plans of the 'new era.' He was less impressive at Headingley, though, falling to a loose stroke in the first innings and appeared to be worked over by the short ball in the second before nicking off. He is only 23, so some setbacks are probably inevitable.

5

Ian Bell (137 runs at 34.25)

Two pleasing half-centuries might have been enough for the 22-year-old Bell, but England require more from the 32-year-old version. Bell continues to look in supreme form and timed the ball as well anyone but, as a senior figure, he will be required to provide far more substantial contributions.

Chris Jordan (92 runs at 23.00 and 5 wickets at 54.60)

A slightly disappointing debut series. Jordan bowled nicely at times, displaying good pace and consistency, and and nice timing with the bat. But he only claimed five wickets in the two Tests and was among the seamers to lose their way on the fourth day at Lord's. While he clearly has ability with the bat, he also displayed a propensity to chase the ball outside off stump and put down a chance in the slips. Ben Stokes will be pushing him hard for a place in the first Test against India.


Alastair Cook was left with much to ponder, England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 4th day, June 23, 2014
Alastair Cook's form and captaincy remain England's biggest issue © Getty Images
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4

Matt Prior (139 runs at 46.33 and 14 catches)

Batted well in his comeback innings at Lord's, but endured a wretched game with the gloves at Headingley and was twice bounced out by Sri Lankan bowlers. It may be that Prior, who was able to play little cricket ahead of the series due to injury, was simply out of form. Or it may be that he is a player in decline. Either way, he is far from assured of a place in the side for the first Test against India, though the lack of rivals pressing for his place works in his favour.

3

Alastair Cook (78 runs at 19.50)

With only 78 runs in four innings, this series extended Cook's poor run of form with the bat. He was also unable to summon a good performance from his side at Headingley and most be held partially accountable for the slow over-rate that might have cost England at Lord's. The decision to allow Angelo Mathews singles and put back the fields at the start of the fourth day did nothing to dissuade his critics that he was a negative captain, while his testy response in interviews suggested the pressure was beginning to wear him down. He was, however, let down by his senior players in Headingley and obliged to captain a team containing several inexperienced players. The fact that are few viable candidates for his place in the side or his position as opener mean that it would still be a major shock if he was not captain in the series against India.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Diaz54 on (June 27, 2014, 19:15 GMT)

Take my word Ali will not be selected. He is a batsman bowler, batted beautifully. He is incredibly talented and pleasing on the eye. Has he got support of the system....I am afraid not. He had to be selected due to his run scoring last year. Showed in incredible,calmness. Other players won't mention names have big support for a number of reasons, which if elaborate my comments won't get published.,you just have to read comments in the telegraph! I also,feel sorry for Pate.

Posted by Jaffa79 on (June 27, 2014, 16:06 GMT)

Cook will be fine. The guy has a phenomenal record and will break all kinds of records. He smashed the Indians all over India and scored 290 against them over here. He is tough and will be back.

Posted by   on (June 27, 2014, 15:49 GMT)

"Whether he is ready to go into a Test series against India as the No. 1 spinner is debatable, though. "

There is no debate; hes not good enough. I am (as a fan of Worcs) a huge fan of Moeen and he is definitely good enough to be in the side as a batsman who bowls. His bowling is better than 'part time' and were you to require a 'second spinner' (as England frequently do on tours to the sub-continent) then he is an ideal candidate for the role. But to expect him to be the main spinner in the side was and continues to be grossly unfair on him.

Posted by Speng on (June 27, 2014, 12:49 GMT)

Cook's a walking wicket (let's not talk about his captaincy here) and deserves a 2 only for showing up. He and Robson will probably get a more stern test by India's seamers - esp Bhuv Kumar who is a really good new ball swing bowler.

In a series with 5 tests on the trot and 5 one dayers I think England are going to struggle to take 20 wickets. Plunkett's a good find and perhaps with some County Cricket having been played there will be more depth available but Jimmy will have to be managed else it will be like last where he took 19 in the first two matches and nowt thereafter. Similar for Broad as he had a really good spell at Lords but not much otherwise. Root &Ali are chip in spinners, the team needs a proper spinner. I like Jordan: athletic, bats a bit, quality fielder but I don't think he's a wicket taker yet at Test level. A couple more County seasons for him to get some tricks up his sleeve - swing & reverse, seam movement - and he can be a force but right now he's undercooked

Posted by Uticensis on (June 27, 2014, 12:01 GMT)

I'd agree with most of this. Not sure Ballance deserves to be singled out as the best batter above Ali or Root. He steps a long way back into his crease against pace bowlers and this makes him very vulnerable to the moving ball pitched up. I'd prefer him at 6 and Moeen at 3, on the basis of these two tests. Given that Bell, the most natural no.3 I've ever seen, doesn't want or isn't trusted with the spot.

Cook is a tragedy that only England cricket can dream up. But Dobell's right about being let down too. I get the impression Anderson's a cussed player to captain. Plenty of spirit and a sharp cricket brain, but sulky and non-co-operative when things don't go his way.

Posted by JG2704 on (June 27, 2014, 11:58 GMT)

@ R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (June 27, 2014, 8:11 GMT) He also gave some defiant interviews so that makes it 4. Reckon we can make him up to a 6 or 7 by the end of the week?

Posted by JG2704 on (June 27, 2014, 8:57 GMT)

@rizwan1981 on (June 25, 2014, 20:03 GMT) Don't really see the logic there. You could argue that if a middle order batsman comes in when the team has lost early wickets the pressure is greater because all you have below you is the lower order/tail. If a middle order batsman makes a big score when the top order has laid a big platform I'd be inclined to agree with you. However Root came in with England struggling on 74-3 and as for Ali , well England almost miraculously saved the last test because he batted all day after coming in when England were 57-5. If Eng had saved the test then that would have been the inns of the series from an Eng player

please publish this time

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (June 27, 2014, 8:11 GMT)

@JG2704 (post on June 26, 2014, 13:37 GMT): He [Cook] took a catch in each game, scored 78 runs, and captained. 3 points...

Posted by   on (June 27, 2014, 0:28 GMT)

"Solid when required and accelerating when appropriate", Dobell put it so aptly. Any surprise? That is what Ballance is all about. Hope others can also strike the same balance. To Moeen's credit and to the surprise of everyone who knows his natural aggressive style, he Moeen) did that in the 2nd innings of the 2nd Test.

Posted by Zak-R on (June 26, 2014, 20:57 GMT)

Ali is a Knock Out! -Under Bowled -When he was put on to bowl in the 2nd innings of the Test, he had two WORLD CLASS BATSMAN (between them they have 22K runs) -ALI Struck with 2 wickets. -When compared to Herath who bowled 67 overs who took 3 wickets, bowled almost 3 times as much as Ali. -WIP Doosra How can anyone or be in doubt, this

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