England miss clean sweep due to earlier lack of ruthlessness

England preserved sequence which speaks of their lack of ruthlessness: not since 2011 have they won a dead-rubber Test.

Published: 14th June 2016 07:24 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th June 2016 07:48 PM   |  A+A-

It was the right result. England deserved to win the series owing to their overwhelming superiority in the first two Investec Tests, but not the third, because they took their foot off Sri Lanka's throat.

And, mercifully, there was none of the shenanigans that took place in the Cardiff Test of 2011, when all the world expected a draw on the final day but Sri Lanka, under the captaincy of Tillakaratne Dilshan, collapsed most surprisingly to 82 all out.

More aggressive intent by England on the first four days of this Test would have given them plenty more overs than the 24.2 which rain allowed in Sri Lanka's second innings. This draw was the principal price which they had to pay for the fragility of their top-five batting.

England thus preserved the sequence which speaks of their lack of ruthlessness: not since 2011 have they, after winning a series, won a dead-rubber Test.

A draw also allowed Sri Lanka an outside chance of winning the first men's Super Series. England have 10 points (four for each Test win and two for this draw), while Sri Lanka could increase their two points to 14 by winning the five one-day internationals and the T20 international, which are equally valued.

It was an appropriate flourish by Kusal Mendis which ended the Test series, when he swept the final ball for six, Sri Lanka ending up on 78 for one. Mendis has the makings of a young champion - the hero or role model that every Test country needs for this format to survive - and his style is characteristically Sri Lankan, as he drives the ball straighter than Indian or Pakistani batsmen.

Sri Lanka had not drawn any of their previous 16 Tests. They had won only two of their previous eight - on such hard times have they fallen since the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene - and those two were at home to West Indies, the worst of Test travellers. So, a draw, even with some help from England's

leniency, made quite a respite.

The tourists are also entitled to write a stiff letter - not to the International Cricket Council about the wicket of Alex Hales on Sunday which was wrongly called a no-ball by umpire Rod Tucker, because those were the rules, albeit rules which need revising, but to the England and Wales Cricket Board. The Sri Lankans' warm-up games were poorly scheduled, to the detriment of all except perhaps James Anderson, who ran through their ill-prepared batting.

From first to last, Anderson could hardly have propelled the ball with more accuracy if he had been

programming its flight on a computer screen. His final wicket - in the 12.2 overs possible on day five - was a virtuoso's. He set up Kaushal Silva with outswinger after outswinger, then so startled him with an

inswinger that he played no shot.

The opposition for the Sri Lankans' first warm-up game against Essex was fair enough. Not for the second three-dayer, however, when the bowling had to rise in quality if they were to be anywhere near ready for the first Test. Instead, Leicestershire's reserve bowling was less than Essex's, and the only right-arm pace bowler the Sri Lankans faced was Tom Wells, who has the grand total of 13 first-class wickets.

At least Sri Lanka's batting improved as the series went on, even though a long partnership between Angelo Mathews and Mendis was never to unfold, with all the gorgeous batsmanship that would have entailed.

England's did not improve, because Joe Root had his worst series (at the best possible time), James Vince a non-series and Nick Compton a series for which he should not have been selected.

It would be fairer therefore to say that Anderson and Jonny Bairstow, England's man of the series,

papered over the cracks - rather than that Alastair Cook's side evolved. The top-five batting made sure of that.

A restructuring of England's batting is essential ahead of the four Tests against Pakistan. Hales has fitted the bill, although he has yet to be tested by fast left-arm swing bowling which is Pakistan's speciality, but otherwise England had regularly to be rescued by Bairstow.

Even more than Matt Prior or Jos Buttler, Bairstow has come closer than any other England wicketkeeper to simulating Adam Gilchrist - and the Australian had a decent top five.

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