England must keep seeing Tests through when on top, says Joe Root

The England team hotel in Galle was seemingly abuzz after Australia’s defeat in Brisbane this week. But this schadenfreude was also tempered by the knowledge that they themselves have nine Tests this year against the might of India and, more pressingly, one against Sri Lanka starting on Friday.

Certainly Joe Root was keen to stress this on Wednesday, smiling as he noted that “the fortress has been broken, the Gabba has been breached” before swiftly returning to his more serious face and issuing the latest reminder that there is “a lot of cricket to be played” in the runup to his side travelling to Australia.

Depth, resilience and character were Root’s three big takeaways from watching India’s historic series win. These are traits he and the head coach, Chris Silverwood, are desperate to instil in their own side in the intervening period and not least during this run of six subcontinental Tests that sees them travel on to India next week.

Sitting 1-0 up with one to play in Sri Lanka makes for a solid start and, two days out from the second instalment on the same ground, Root was demanding further ruthlessness from his team. “That is something we want to be associated with,” said the Test captain. “Being a side who, when they get on top, can see it through.”

Working out England’s likely XI from afar is a tricky task and Root was giving little away. A squad for the first two of the four Tests in India is being announced on Thursday and there is a growing expectation that Sam Curran and Mark Wood will not be part of it, as the selectors continue to give the all-format cricketers periods of rest this winter.

As such, and provided Wood feels physically able to charge in again after 27 overs in the first Test, it could easily be that England make just one change: Jimmy Anderson in for the impressive Stuart Broad, as part of a plan that sees this experienced pair rotate for one berth across the two tours.

Either way, with Sri Lanka believed to be considering a return for seamer Suranga Lakmal in place of leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga – batsman Oshada Fernando replaces the dropped Kusal Mendis at No 3 – it does not sound like England will need to veer from their two-spinner, three-seamer template.

Root’s red face after training was a reminder that things can quickly change in the heat of Sri Lanka, however, while Chris Woakes is also an option should the management think back to the end of their first innings 421 all out – a collapse of six for 49 – and decide the lower order needs strengthening.

The captain was also glowing about Olly Stone. The fast bowler has not featured since his debut against Ireland in 2019 due to injury but, when fully fit, he represents a 90mph-plus option should Wood drop out and England desire a like-for-like replacement.

“We couldn’t be more impressed with how he’s gone about his business,” said Root. “He looks fit, strong, he’s bowling quick and he’s given a very good account of himself. There might be an opportunity for him to play on this tour [of the subcontinent] whether that’s this week or further down the line.”

More certain to play is Stone’s Warwickshire teammate Dom Sibley, who along with opening partner Zak Crawley failed to fire in the first Test. Root, himself back in the top 10 of the Test batting rankings after his match-defining double century, is not yet concerned about both men getting out twice to the left-arm spin of Lasith Embuldeniya.

“They are quick and smart learners who will be looking to turn things around,” Root said. “It is a great chance for them to adjust quickly to these conditions and show everyone that they’ve got the game to perform out here.

“You need to know how to play in these conditions. Not only will it benefit them long term playing in Asia, but also in matches anywhere in the world where the pitch deteriorates late on and starts spinning drastically. You’ve got to have a game for it.

“These tours and these games are all about winning but the experience you get can really benefit you further in your career if you have the right attitude.”

Once again there will be much focus on England’s spin pairing of Jack Leach and Dom Bess. The pair shared 14 wickets in the first Test but, despite an endorsement from Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews (perhaps talking up his own second-innings score of 71), also struggled to fully contain.

Asked what his message to the pair would be, Root replied: “Keep on the upward curve that they have been on. The more they bowl and the more they find themselves in the pressure situations on the field then the better they will be for it.”

It is an assessment that goes for the team as a whole, as England look to wrap up this series before considering the tougher challenges that lie ahead.