Joe Root challenged his England players to strive for the next level of performance come Friday’s second Test against Sri Lanka in Galle after a seven-wicket win in the series opener that reminded him the team is far from the finished article.
There was obvious delight in the away dressing room when Jonny Bairstow’s swept four completed a chase of 74 inside the first hour of the final morning, with Root’s men starting their winter of six Tests with a victory despite limited preparation.
This was England’s fourth successive Test win on the road too – a streak that goes back to last winter’s series in South Africa and something last achieved in 1957 – while Root himself moved to 24 victories as captain, level with predecessors Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss and now just two short of Michael Vaughan’s England record of 26.
But despite these impressive statistics, his own formidable return to form with an eight-hour 228 in England’s first innings, and five-wicket hauls for the spinners Dom Bess and Jack Leach, the captain stressed there is more to come both from his side and a Sri Lanka team that produced a stirring fightback after their initial 135 all out on day one.
Root said: “It’s not been a perfect performance, we’re very well aware of that. We aren’t the finished article, we’ve got a long way to go. We are making little errors here and there. But we are getting better and that’s seen by the results we are having.
“The spinners will have got a huge amount from this, not just confidence in terms of taking wickets but the amount of time that they’ve had out there.
“And you talk about making big partnerships, we did that very well with another first-innings score over 400. There are a number of things that we can take into the next game. We’re very well aware that we’ll have to keep looking to improve and get better if we’re going to keep having continued success over the next five Tests.”
Another plus for Root is the wealth of batting options his squad is developing, something summed up by Bairstow’s strong return to the Test side after a year out, making scores of 47 and 35 not out, and debutant Dan Lawrence showing a solid temperament during his first innings 73 and the stand of 62 with Bairstow that saw England home.
With Rory Burns on paternity leave, Ben Stokes rested and Ollie Pope set to return from a shoulder injury on the India tour, Root described the future selection headaches as “exactly what you want to see as captain”.
He said: “For a young guy like Dan to come in and play with such maturity, such a calm nature, and to be put in that situation last night and handle it how he did – that was really impressive for a guy making his debut. And I think both innings [from Bairstow] showed his class and his game for Test cricket.
On Leach and Bess, who wrestled for control at times, Root said: “They will have got a huge amount from this, not just confidence in terms of taking wickets but the amount of time that they’ve had out there. You can’t replicate spending time out there in the field.
“It’s not just the actual art of spin bowling in terms of the skill and technical elements to it, but there’s the mental aspects of it and getting used to the heat. There’s not been that buildup that you would normally have to an away tour in such extreme conditions. So, I think this game will ready them even more.”
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Root went on to stress that Moeen Ali is not yet ruled out of the second and final Test, despite emerging from a 13-day isolation only over the weekend, while the expectation is that seamers Stuart Broad and Mark Wood will be rested, bringing Jimmy Anderson, Olly Stone and Chris Woakes into the equation.
“Sri Lanka will be desperate to turn things around,” Root said. “We’ve just got to keep getting better. If we keep learning from this game, from both the good things and also the mistakes, we will be very hard to beat.”