The Dummy's Guide to Cricket

You don’t want to stop England right now, for they are having such a good time over in Sri Lanka. Led by guitarist Rooty, the champions celebration in the dressing room yesterday was akin to Ashes triumphs over the bitter enemy. With Jos ‘The Biffer’ Buttler pounding the drums, this was a timely reminder of just how far England has come over the past twelve months.

From a 4-0 drubbing by the Aussies, to being 27-9 versus New Zealand and outplayed by Pakistan at the Home of Cricket, a historical series whitewash in Asia is a gargantuan achievement for Root and his band of misfits. Misfits who have, as the year progressed, moulded into something very, very frightening.

We Are The Champions My Friends

Not since 1963, have an England touring team succeeded in whitewashing an opponent. Back then The Beatles were about to release ‘Please, Please Me,’ the moon was still made of cheese and Mary Berry had a dry bottom. Notable births included Whitney Houston, Johnny Depp and James May. An era of colour television captivating audiences, lava lamps spooking millions and instant coffee giving hope to the workforce. Brim-full of caffeine, Ted Dexter led a touring England to a comfortable 3-0 victory over New Zealand. Little were they to know it would be 55 years before the same feat would be achieved. Mind you prior to ’63, it occurred way back in 1896. Coincidentally the year Mary Berry emerged into the baking world.

Thus should we paste the back page headlines into our scrapbooks? An inaugural whitewash in Asia is certainly not something to be sniffed at. Mind you, I doubt satirical cricket writers in 2073 will bother telling you which song reached number one this week. Unlike The Beatles, it will be shite. (Ed – Unless you’re a fan of Ariana Grande’s, ‘thank u, next.’ A milestone of the MSN generation. Gr8!)

Yes, Sri Lanka is now a retirement home for old gr8’s (soz hun still in chat mode, LOL!). The age of Muralitharan, Jayawardene and Sangakkara has passed. Yes, skipper Chandimal only played at Galle. And yes, you would struggle to pick their side out of a police lineup. BUT let’s not forget about the baking humidity, alien conditions and how both Australia and South Africa were decimated on the Resplendent Isle in the past year. Thus England have been impressive.

And We’ll Keep On Fighting ‘Til The End

Let’s not forget how just a month ago, Cookie’s retirement left a hole at the top of the order, which when combined with the toothless void of the number 3 position, meant England were in need of many fillings. Whilst Rory Burns may not have sparkled, his 59 at Kandy held the innings together; allowing incisor Root to tear out a chunky 124. Enough to hopefully see Burns’ torch lit in the West Indies.

Somebody who burned brightly in Colombo was Jonny Bairstow. Having been swayed by our impassioned podcast last week, Jonny blistered a gorgeous 110. Having experimented with Moeen and Stokes at number 3, Bairstow could be the answer to Bayliss’ prayers. Particularly when you consider his style of play is precisely what Root wants; bold, attacking and dangerous. Were he to add just a teeny touch of defence, the position could be Bairstow’s for a long time to come.

With Bairstow at 3 and Root 4, we saw the engine room of Stokes and Buttler churn into life in Colombo. Two players who have shown in the past 12 months a willingness to adapt their games. Although Jos Buttler was brought in as an attacking number 7, his intelligent reading of a situation has been a joy to behold. Like Holmes surveying a crime scene before leaping into action, Jos understands the match situation and settles in.

Coming in at 89-4 at Kandy, he recognised the importance of building a steady partnership with Curran, before accelerating away. Unlike the mysterious detective though, Buttler appears to have shared this practice with Ben Stokes. A firecracker who has likewise added a touch of sobriety to his batting. Where Watson huddles in the darkness of ignorance, Stokes blossoms in the light of knowledge. Again in the third test, their 100 run partnership cemented England’s lead. This learning and understanding of their batting has slowly grown throughout 2018. Now it is elementary, my dear reader!

We Are The Champions, We Are The Champions

A true champion of this series has been Ben Foakes. Despite HFAL HQ sending frequent pigeon dispatches to Ed Smith begging for Foakes’ inclusion, it was only an injury to Bairstow which opened the door for the Surrey keeper. Instead of merely wedging his foot in the door, Ben has used his full force to splinter the door off its hinges. 277 runs averaging 69.25 with a debut century? Pure quality. Although he may not have the attacking prowess of Buttler or Bairstow, Foakes is a steady batsman. His 107 at Galle spoke of an individual determined to cement his place in the England line up. Despite believing his chance had vanished, like May’s bid to become a Dame, Foakes seized the opportunity with both hands, feet and balls to put in a Man of the Series performance.

Behind the stumps he is lightness personified. All six feet of him bends to the bowlers will; diving this way and that to snatch impossible catches. Appearance wise he looks more like an M&S model than a world class wickie. David Gandy couldn’t have performed better at Kandy. As the ladies would cry, ‘he’s a keeper.’ Well ladies… he literally is!

No Time For Losers

It’s impressive how we’ve got this far without mentioning the real match winners. To overcome Sri Lanka, in Sri Lankan conditions, means you must match them at their own game. Spin. As Rangana Herath departed to a standing ovation in his farewell test, England’s own spinner Jack Leach was at the other end of the career spectrum.

Biding his time like Grindewald, Leach has finally unleashed his venomous left arm spin. After a broken thumb blighted his chances over the summer, Leach could only gasp in horror as Adil Rashid controversially returned to the national side. Roaring back with career best figures of 8-85 against Essex, he secured a Sri Lankan berth. With 18 scalps at just 21.38 and the uncanny knack of tying up an end, the Somerset spinner leaps above Rashid as England’s second choice spinner.

In tandem with Moeen, Jack Leach stifled Sri Lanka. Bowling the most overs of the three, his 5-83 at Kandy was sweet succour as England triumphed by 57 runs. Furthermore there was even the gob stopping run out of Kusal Mendis who in partnership with Roshen Silva took Sri Lanka from 82-5 to 184-6 at Colombo. An event which shifted the swirly tide of mousse in favour of the visitors. Before just desserts occurred as Leach took the final wicket, securing his role reversal from mild mannered looking accountant, to cut throat, swaggering banker. A blood sucking leech for Matthews and Co.

‘Cause We Are The Champions… Of The World!

Strictly speaking England are not champions of the world quite yet. But this 3-0 series win propels them above South Africa to number two side in test cricket. Although question marks still hang over Keaton Jennings, seven wins in their past eight matches is a phenomenal achievement. Not since 2012 have England tasted champagne over in Asia. A series which saw an Alastair Cook led England grind India into submission. Through dot balls and hours of batting, it was a defensive ploy which enabled England to crawl over the line.

With Joe Root now at the helm this England side is vastly different. A team of all-rounder’s, full of confidence. Utilising sweeps, reverse sweeps and dancing footwork, they brought an attacking game to Asia. More of a gamble yes, but with a motherload of cash when it pays off. And boy has it paid off in Sri Lanka this winter.

Cheque Books at the ready. England are prepared to become champions of the world once more.