Never has such a decisive England win caused so much speculation over selection for the next Test. Before the dust has even settled in Galle, anyone with an opinion has decried this week’s solid performance as a selector’s nightmare – how selfish of Keaton Jennings to finally score a century when we had all but written him out of future pans, and how dare Foakes make Bairstow fight for his place.
Yet if I were an England selector I would be sat on the beach, beer in hand, not only feeling smug that I was in Sri Lanka while my friends were crammed on a tube after a 10-minute walk through the rain in complete darkness, but that almost all my plans had worked.
Many including myself were getting exasperated with Jennings’s consistent failure at the top of the order yet the decision to back his ability against spin has been richly rewarded. What’s more including Foakes as a specialist keeper succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams as the debutant looked like he was born to score Test hundreds.
Perhaps even more reassuring was the performance of England’s spinners. Moeen bowled superbly whilst Jack Leach looked particularly dangerous with the ball in hand. Rashid was less spectacular but none the less put in a solid performance, with useful runs down the order further justifying his selection.
Yet as one would expect, it was not an immaculate performance. The only decisive negative we can take away form this week is that Moeen is not a No. 3 and needs to be moved down the order as quickly as possible. The so-called ‘selector’s nightmare’ is how to fill the gap. This is supposedly made harder because Bairstow is set to be fit for the Second Test, but to include him would be an act of lunacy as it would most likely involve dropping Leach or Rashid. Even playing Denly would be a more sensible option as at least he prefers to bat at the top of the order and adds a useful bowling option to England’s armoury.
For me there are only two options: Moeen moves down to 5 or 6 and either Root or Stokes move up to No. 3. Stokes has shown that he is a proficient player of spin and would no doubt embrace the new challenge, and while it is well publicised that Root prefers to bat at 4, he has hardly backed this up with evidence of late.
Finally, it must be mentioned that it was not a dream debut for Surrey star Rory Burns who failed to leave his mark from the two innings. Yet suggestions from the likes of Simon Hughes that he could be dropped after a single Test are (I assume purposefully) inflammatory, and the kind of knee-jerk punditry that should largely be ignored. We cannot expect immediate results from any player, let alone an opening batsmen, and it goes without saying that he will require further chances before any valid judgement can be passed on his future role in English cricket.
So after all this the old logic that you should never tamper with a winning team stands true. Maybe the extra pace and bounce at Kandy will suit Broad over Anderson, but why take the risk when Anderson looked in perfectly good form. It will be interesting to see what route the selectors go down, but ultimately who cares, England’s drought on tour is over – maybe there was some sense after all playing in Sri Lanka during monsoon season.