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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
June 25, 2014
Blogs : How do you solve a problem like Alastair Cook?
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Players/Officials: Gary Ballance | Liam Plunkett | Moeen Ali | James Anderson | Stuart Broad | Sam Robson | Joe Root | Ian Bell | Chris Jordan | Matt Prior | Alastair Cook
Series/Tournaments: Sri Lanka tour of England and Ireland
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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