Joe Root praises team for 'bold and courageous' victory

Captain takes pride in leading from the front as England seal first series win in Asia for six years

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Having challenged his players to play "bold, courageous cricket" on their tour of Sri Lanka, England's captain Joe Root said that he would take immense pride in the manner in which his players backed up their words with deeds to secure their first series win in Asia for six years.
Root himself was named Man of the Match for his superb second-innings 124, a performance that epitomised his team's positive approach to batting in challenging conditions, and he admitted that it was especially pleasing to have been able to lead from the front in precisely the manner that he had called for.
"I'm really pleased to back up everything I've spoken about and the way that I did it," Root told Sky Sports. "It's nice to make a big contribution but the thing that sits well with me is the manner in which I did it. I asked the guys to play a certain way, and I went out and backed it up myself."
However, Root was quick to praise his entire squad for the manner in which they bought into the challenge of taking on Sri Lanka in their own conditions - not just the 11 players who have so far taken the field in the two Tests, but the full 17-man squad, not least the likes of Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow, two hugely experienced players who have been surplus to requirements given the specific balance of this team.
"Look at the guys we've got on the sidelines," he said. "We've got some very exciting young players and a lot of experience, and for Stuart Broad [and Bairstow] to have no played a part in this series shows the strength of the squad, and the adaptability as well. Around the world we could have played a very different side with a similar well-balanced look to it.
"It's nice to be in a position where all 17 guys could walk into the team and it wouldn't look any less balanced, or out of place in these conditions."
If England's set-up allowed them to do without some of their most senior campaigners out in the middle, then Root was quick to praise the contributions of two of his most trusted lieutenants, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes. Both are integral members of England's world-class white-ball squad, and after a match in which England's fielding standards, particularly the close catching, had made the difference between the two teams, Root insisted that their contributions had been instrumental in raising the overall standards of the squad.
"The guys have worked really hard on their close catching, we know how important it is in this part of the world," said Root. "When you've got Jos and Ben in the outfield, the standard does rise, it drags people with them.
"They are the sort of characters we have, two senior players who command respect in the way they go about things. Not verbally, but with their actions on the field and the way they train. They set the standard, and when people see that and the success they have on the field, they are very quick to follow suit."
The final morning of the match had dawned with England needing a further three wickets, and Sri Lanka 75 runs, but Root insisted that he and his players had been pretty calm when play resumed, thanks to a belief in the plans that had already carried them to the brink of victory.
"We were pretty confident," he said. "We knew we'd be able to create three chances on that surface, but we also recognised that when partnerships developed it became quite difficult. We tried to stay as calm as possible, trust all the plans we had, and follow through on that, and thankfully it paid off."
That's not to say there had not been one or two nervous moments in the field as Sri Lanka set off in pursuit of a victory target of 300, and Root conceded that the extended sessions on day four had not helped his team, in the wake of the heavy rainfall that interrupted their own second innings.
"The extra 15 minutes in both sessions didn't help," he said. "[Sri Lanka's] two significant partnerships were towards the back of those sessions and they got away from us a little bit. It's a nice learner for me as captain to do things differently, but ultimately we reassessed things very well and very quickly and put things right."
The credit for the victory ultimately went to England's trio of spinners who claimed 19 of Sri Lanka's 20 wickets in the match, with Jack Leach and Moeen Ali sharing nine out of ten in the second innings,
"They dealt with the pressure pretty well, and to do it in these conditions as well," said Root. "To do it in England on pitches you're familiar with is one thing, but we have guys like Mo who are very good at beating the bat on both sides when there's more consistent spin. It's about finding different ways of getting the most out of your skill and expand your game.
"You've seen a big improvement and development in all three of them to harness and shoulder that pressure. It was really pleasing."
Root's captaincy also encountered a steep learning curve out in the field, part of which revolved around him unlearning some of the lessons that became apparent to him while batting.
"It's difficult, you see the ball spin when you're batting and it's really hard work," he said. "There is that expectation on yourselves at times to go and take clusters of wickets and put them under huge amounts of pressure. But if you over-attack, it can be difficult, you can leak runs, and then the pressure is back on yourselves.
"More than anything, you have to get that balance of attack and defence, defend with the field but attack with the ball in hand, that is sometimes a bit more useful."
Root also praised his team's batting, not merely for producing three centuries in the two Tests to Sri Lanka's none, but for the intent and the depth that they were able to dredge out of the entire line-up - right down to the contributions of James Anderson at No.11, who helped add 101 runs for the last wicket across two innings.
"We've made some really crucial partnerships at key times," he said. "Going back to the start of the second innings, going back to Keaton [Jennings] and Rory [Burns], they kept the scoreboard moving very quickly, and kept them under pressure from the start, and in a calm and controlled manner. That set the innings up beautifully and gave the guys a huge amount of confidence to play their own way and keep the runs coming.
"The beauty of this team is the depth of batting," he added. "Guys like Rashid coming in at No.10 at times, he's more than capable of big scores in Test cricket, and has more than 10 first-class hundreds. It's nice to know that the depth is there, but one thing we've seen is there is no attitude of 'leave it to someone else'. The guys have stood up and shouldered that responsibility really well."
Ben Foakes, England's rookie wicketkeeper, was also singled out for special praise after another match in which his impeccable glovework was matched by a vital performance with the bat.
"Foakes has made it look a lot easier than it should look, both keepers have," said Root. "Both stood back and up, with the ball not carrying at times. It's been spitting, keeping low, but he's done phenomenally well, and makes it look a lot easier than it is which is fantastic to have as a wicketkeeper.
"His runs have been fantastic as well. His demeanour out in the middle is one of someone who has played a lot more than he has. He has a great attitude towards learning and improving himself."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @miller_cricket