By Michael Stafford-Jones
- Moeen Ali takes eight wickets to spin England to victory by 211 runs in the First Test
- Ben Foakes is named man of the match on his debut after he rescues the team in the first innings with a century and keeps wicket superbly
- Keaton Jennings repays the selectors’ faith with superb unbeaten 146 in the second innings
GALLE, SRI LANKA – Ben Foakes, Moeen Ali and Keaton Jennings perform brilliantly to guide England to their first Test win away from home since October 2016.
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Ben Foakes looks ideally suited to test cricket
Not many players come into Test cricket and look as comfortable as Ben Foakes did in this match. He was faced with a difficult situation: England were reeling at 103-5 and staring down the barrel at another embarrassing loss overseas.
However, the Surrey player never panicked at any time during his debut innings of 107. He knew how to play on sub-continental pitches because had already made six trips to Sri Lanka thanks to the England set-up, as they picked him for the Lions and placed him with a Colombo cricket club Colts, and it showed.
Foakes demonstrated a very simple method which proved to be very effective. He waited for the right ball to score off and then played it into the gaps in the field. He hit a few bad balls for four. He defended stoutly when he had to. He looked comfortable against the spinners and did not take any undue risks. And when he needed to accelerate to reach his hundred before James Anderson got out, he did that too. It was a perfect start to his Test career.
As brilliant as that innings was, the Surrey player still needed to do more to safeguard his future selection prospects. He is frequently championed by England legend Alec Stewart as one of the best wicketkeepers in the world and this was his first chance in international cricket to show everyone how good he is.
To Foakes’ great credit, that is exactly what he did. He took a catch off the second ball of the innings, produced a lightning-quick stumping to dismiss Dinesh Chandimal and then held onto an excellent catch off Moeen Ali’s bowling. He also did not concede any byes in the match, meaning it is possible that he did not let a single ball get past him. In short, he looks to be a world-class wicketkeeper and should retain the gloves for the foreseeable future.
Keaton Jennings is an excellent player of spin
The Lancashire opener was very lucky to keep his place for the tour of Sri Lanka. He had suffered the kind of run of poor form that would get almost anyone in any sport dropped from their team. In the end, his performances in India in 2016 saved him.
On that trip, Keaton Jennings scored a century on his debut and then backed it up with fifty in the next game. That was enough to convince the selectors to stick with him for the current series, and he repaid their faith straightaway with a superb 146 not out in the second innings.
It was such a contrast to his summer in England when he looked all at sea against the best India pace attack in living memory. Whenever the opener started an innings in that series, he looked shaky and it seemed like he could get out at any moment. But in Galle, in conditions that England batsmen traditionally find tricky, he looked at home.
Jennings is a brilliant exponent of the sweep shot. He can play it conventionally or hit the reverse sweep and it looks to be low-risk option with his technique. He also picks the right times to go forward or play back, which is a key element in the game of any naturally good operator against spin.
The challenge that now faces the Lancashire opener is to continue in this vein. He must cement his place at the top of the order by racking up the runs this winter in Sri Lanka and the West Indies. Then he will have to improve his performances against pace bowling before Australia arrive for The Ashes next summer. If he does not, familiar questions will be asked about whether he should be selected.
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England can succeed with three spinners, but should they make changes for the next match?
The selectors got every decision right for this Test match. They stuck with Jennings, they chose to bring in Foakes and they opted to go with three spinners in the line-up.
Moeen, Adil Rashid and Jack Leach were selected and between them they took 16 of the 20 Sri Lankan wickets that fell in the match. Moeen was the star as he grabbed four in each innings, Leach gave Root control and picked up five wickets in total and Rashid chipped in with three important wickets.
It was a resounding success whatever way you look at it, but the selectors face another difficult task ahead of the second match in Kandy. If they turn up for that match and find a pitch with more pace or bounce in it, they will probably want another seamer in the team so a spinner may have to miss out.
Given that Moeen took the most wickets and Leach offered the most control, it would have to be Rashid who makes way for a seamer. But who should England pick? Should they go for express pace with Olly Stone or the vast experience of Stuart Broad? There are good arguments for either option. However, they should avoid selecting Chris Woakes as he has been very ineffective in sub-continental conditions in the past.
Should Jonny Bairstow be recalled for the Second Test?
Jonny Bairstow is a very good batsman, particularly in ODI cricket, but he should not be an automatic selection for Test cricket as some pundits have suggested. He averages less than 40, he has only scored five hundreds in 102 matches and he has a tendency to get out in disappointing fashion.
Worryingly, the Yorkshireman’s form also deserted him completely in the second half of the India series, and his last six scores are 15, 0, 6, 0, 0 and 18. That means he will be short on confidence and, as he has come back from an injury, short on match fitness too.
Given these circumstances, as well as the scenario England find themselves in where there is no-one from the current side who they should leave out, Bairstow should be made to wait for his return to the team.
The Second Test between Sri Lanka and England begins in Kandy at 4.30am GMT on Wednesday 14th November 2018.
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