For all its imposing ramparts, ownership of the fort in Galle has changed hands often over the years.

At one stage the Dutch, struggling with the attentions of the French closer to home, invited the British to look after it for a while in the expectation they would retake control when resources allowed. It was a bit like asking the fox to mind your chickens while you have a snooze.

Sri Lanka were almost as obliging at moments during the second Test as the Dutch had been at the end of the 18th century. To see Kusal Mendis slice to mid-off, Angelo Mathews pull to midwicket (where the chance was spurned), Kaushal Silva playing against the spin or Dhananjaya de Silva attempting to thrash a wide ball for seven was to see a side lacking the discipline or determination required at this level.

The Sri Lanka coach, Chandika Hathurusingha, compared his batsmen to "school kids", which seems about right. It is a side that could learn much from the scrupulous professionalism and commitment for which Rangana Herath was known.

For that reason, this was not quite an England victory to rate with similar subcontinental Test triumphs in India in 2012, Pakistan in 2000 or those here in 2001.

It was significant, though. Given England's away record - they were, remember, in the midst of their longest winless streak away from home in their history - and their record against spin, in particular, any victory in Asia is worthy of respect. It was Joe Root's first win overseas as captain and England's first win with a Kookaburra ball since Stuart Broad's inspired spell in Johannesburg in January 2016.

This Sri Lanka side, flawed though it may be, had some decent scalps, too. Pakistan in the UAE, for example, and Bangladesh in Bangladesh. England couldn't manage either of those results.

The most pleasing thing from an England perspective was that just about everyone contributed. James Anderson and Sam Curran only took a wicket apiece but, by striking with the new ball in the first innings, they played their part. Ben Stokes only took one wicket, but the hostility he generated - remarkable given the docile surface - unsettled the Sri Lanka middle order. And while Adil Rashid bowled well below his best, he did make the vital breakthrough in the first innings, breaking the partnership between Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal, and was an affordable luxury in a three-man spin attack.

But more than that, it may have marked something of a changing of the guard. There was no Alastair Cook and no Stuart Broad - England had only won Test without either of them since the 2005 Ashes and that was in Mumbai in March 2006 - and, such was Ben Foakes' excellence, it raised the possibility that neither Jos Buttler or Jonny Bairstow will ever again keep in a Test. Keaton Jennings provided grounds for belief that he may yet develop into a reliable Test opener and Buttler provided two key supporting contributions.

England used their one unique selling point - the remarkable number of allrounders they currently have - to ensure they had a deep batting order and both variation and contingency plans in the attack. So Curran, at No. 8, and Rashid, at No. 9, produced valuable runs while the presence of six bowlers seemed to take the pressure off Moeen Ali. He has never had better match figures in an overseas Test and rarely bowled better in a fourth innings.

And then there's Foakes. It is naive to pretend we can ever return to a time when keepers could hardly bat, but it's also foolish to suggest the value of a keeper's run can offset a missed chance. In Foakes England have a batsman good enough to bat at No. 7, at least, and a better keeper than they have had since the days of James Foster. Matt Prior, who watched this match in his role as a commentator, suggested Foakes may already be better than Foster, who was once rated the best there has ever been by Jack Russell.

They are strong words and time will tell, but there is huge value in having such a skilful keeper. While there may be a temptation to classify his first Test dismissals as routine, it's worth remembering that, between November 2012 and December 2015, England didn't take a single wicket by a stumping in Test cricket. The best tend to make things look easy.

There is a lesson to learn from Galle, though. While the instinct of most batsmen on both sides is to counterattack in almost all circumstances, the key innings in this match were old-school, patient affairs. England remain insistent that their first-morning batting was appropriate - Root suggested his side could have been "50 for 5 if we had sat in our bunker and waited for a good ball" - but the fact is they were dug out of trouble by Foakes' century, while Jennings shut Sri Lanka out of the game in the second. Neither tried to take the attack to bowlers as much as they sought to defy them and accumulate steadily.

If England want to go the next step, from being an attractive and dangerous side to one of the very best, they need to tailor their aggression just a little more. Three-session centuries might not be as much fun as 60-ball 50s, but Tests are still won more by the former than the latter. Root, in particular, will get more out of his substantial talent if he realises that.

England need to develop their defensive game - there's no way they should be 50 for 5 if they trust their defensive techniques - and remember the old adage about allowing bowlers the first session of a Test. This match ended more than a day early; there's plenty of time to defend, or even leave, a few more balls. Even Lewis Hamilton slows down for corners.