When the Test series between England and Sri Lanka kicked off, there was some mental baggage on the hosts. The series kicked off at the same venue where the Englishmen had been stunned two years. Also, this was the same venue where their lead bowler had the poorest of records among home venues. Two years is a long time though, and it was enough to overcome an upset loss. Lots had changed in the Sri Lankan team over the course of 24 months. Two of their biggest match-winners with the bat were no longer a part of the national side. That made a big difference as England took fill advantage of the opponents' weaknesses, and pinned them down.
While the bowlers dominated the series for England, that wasn't really a surprise considering the conditions and the opposition they were facing. It was the batting, which wore a slightly unsettled look going into the series, that stood out. The opening combination has been a major problem for England since Andrew Strauss called it a day. From Sam Robson to Michael Carberry to Nick Compton, various combinations with Alastair Cook have failed. And, Alex Hales hadn't made an impressive debut so he was under pressure. However, Hales displayed an exceedingly mature head against Sri Lanka, although he failed thrice to reach the hundred mark.
The performance of Jonny Bairstow was another massive tick in the box for England. Bairstow did not go into the series with a great reputation as a Test batsman. And, when you know that the other wicket-keeping option in the team is the super talented Jos Buttler, you ought to be exceptional. Bairstow certainly has done his chances no harm with two splendid centuries. So good has he been with the bat, the selectors will have to consider playing him as a specialist to bring Buttler back in the fold. The other big gain in the batting was the success of Moeen Ali. For a long while, he was holding his place in the team on the basis of his bowling, but a hundred will certainly give him better breathing space.
In the bowling, there were few surprises as James Anderson continued to rollick away. The English fast bowler is at that stage of his career where every series he will be judged to decipher whether he has lost any sting. From the evidence of the Sri Lanka series, the answer is definitely no. In fact, like old wine, he only seems to be getting better the age. The Sri Lankan batsmen were all but clueless over how to deal with his brilliance. As he has done so often for the team over the years, Stuart Broad provided superb support to Anderson although that one magical spell that he has had a habit of delivering was missing. The success of Chris Woakes too was a big plus.
Along with the positives, there were a few concerns too for England, the biggest being the lack of runs from Nick Compton. With Ian Bell no longer in the scheme of things, England were depending on Compton to deliver, but he failed. At a less worrisome level, but one nonetheless is the form of skipper Alastair Cook himself. While he crossed the 10,000 run milestone during the series, he was nowhere near his fluent best. A few more failures, and Cook's place in the team could again come under the scanner. In the bowling, Steven Finn was the only letdown. All in all, England's Test cricket looks in brilliant shape.
--By A Cricket Analyst