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Review: The Root to success for England

— 25 January 2021

England enjoyed an outstanding fourth day’s play in Galle today to brush aside Sri Lanka and gear themselves up for next month’s series in India.

Joe Root continued his fabulous start to 2021 with a superb first-innings 186 to add to his 228 in the first Test at the same venue, with the skipper named the man-of-the-series in the 2-0 win.

He was also handed the man-of-the-match award ahead of Jimmy Anderson, who claimed a brilliant 6-40 in the first innings.

The series was in the balance ahead of today’s fourth day, with England starting it on 339-9 in reply to a first-innings 381.

Last pair Jack Leach and Jimmy Anderson added five runs at the start of play before the hosts were bowled out for 126 in their second innings, with White Rose duo Root and Dom Bess (4-49 from 16 overs) sharing six wickets with their spin.

Leach claimed the other four as, for the first time in Test history, a team claimed all 10 wickets in one innings with seam and all 10 in another with spin.

That left England chasing 164 either side of tea, and they did it comfortably – with six wickets in hand – thanks to 56 not out from Dom Sibley, 29 from Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler’s unbeaten 46.

“It was a fine performance in this game,” said Root.

“To come out on top having lost the toss, on a wicket where we had the worst of it, it is testament to the character of the boys.

“We were outstanding with the ball in the first innings, and that last innings was about showing maturity and calmness – and a lot of boys did that.

“We knew we wanted to try and get as close to them as a group (in the first innings), but ultimately when we bowled we wanted to create chaos and make it difficult for them to score boundaries.

“We knew if we could create pressure, we’d create opportunities on that surface.”

After speaking at the presentation, Root also spoke to BBC’s Test Match Special and Sky Sports.

He continued: “The most pleasing thing for me was that the spinners took the responsibility and ownership to get us into that position. But I thought the way we handled the chase with such calmness and poise was really outstanding.

“To deal with that kind of pressure, on a surface like that, shows we’ve come a long way.

“In the past, we’d have made that look a lot more difficult.”

England have now won their last four series – away to South Africa and Sri Lanka and at home to West Indies and Pakistan.

“Our recent away form is testament to the guys,” said Root.

“Both in South Africa and here, we’ve started to implement the game plan that we’ve been trying to do and we’re starting to see that progression and it working time and time again.

“We’ve spoken previously about us not playing well away from home and not taking 20 wickets and making big first-innings runs. So long may this continue.

“I don’t think we have had a complete performance in these two games, and that is what you are always chasing.

“We have made really good strides, but need to keep looking to get better.”

Root scored 426 runs across the two Tests and received praise from pundits and team-mates.

Opener Sibley, who steered today’s chase after his own earlier struggles, said of his captain: “Watching Joe Root makes you feel inadequate, to be honest! The way he’s played has been incredible.”

England fly to India – Chennai to be precise – later this week ahead of the first of four Tests against Virat Kohli and company, starting on Friday February 5.

The Sri Lankan series was part of the World Test Championship, which concludes in June with the final at Lord’s, as is the forthcoming Indian series.

India are currently top of the table, New Zealand second, Australia third and England fourth.

The top two teams qualify, and it may be that England have to win 3-0 in India to advance depending on how other results go elsewhere

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