Sri Lanka v England: 'Tourists' positive approach pays off and makes for exciting cricket'

By Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent
England captain Joe Root holds a stump as he leads his side off the pitch following victory over Sri Lanka in the second Test
England sealed their first away series win under Joe Root with victory in the second Test

For England to come to Sri Lanka and beat them at their own game is a huge achievement.

Winning the first two Tests to seal the series with a game to spare is impressive, especially given their very poor record overseas recently, which included being badly beaten in India and drawing with Bangladesh in similar conditions as well as the Ashes defeat by Australia.

Not many people thought they would win here, but England have done so playing a very exciting, new style of Test cricket.

It almost backfired in the first Test at Galle when they got a bit carried away on the first morning.

But they have toned it down a bit and in Pallekele played in a slightly more controlled way yet still with a very positive approach, particularly in how they batted. That is what has put them 2-0 up.

That and some excellent fielding - there were moments of proper brilliance from Ben Stokes in the first innings and Keaton Jennings in the second.

Flashes like that help you win on the subcontinent, although usually when the game is more attritional and neither of these two Tests have been. They have been full of excitement and you dare not look away for a moment because of the way the batsmen are playing.

This Test showed batsmen play the reverse-sweep possibly even more securely and successfully than the traditional sweep - and it leaves the fielding captain two or three fielders short.

If you set a field for the reverse-sweep, you open up a gap somewhere else and the batsmen just knock it there.

A reverse-sweep in Test cricket used to cause a shock around the ground. Now you are seeing two or three an over and the bowling side simply cannot stop the flow of runs.

It is brilliant cricket and as long as you keep hold of your usual game and do not sell out to a completely reckless approach - as Joe Root did in his tremendous second-innings century - it makes for a very exciting direction that the game is moving in.

England's attacking approach pays off

Root talked before the series about playing this attacking game and his side went out and did it.

His declaration at Galle was positive, even if his batting was a bit frantic and he was trying too hard to prove the point he wanted to make. But he hit an outstanding ton in Pallekele that underlined the way he wants to play.

He will realise you cannot always play like that and sometimes you will come unstuck, so you have to be flexible at all times.

However, he demonstrated that a positive approach can be successful in this part of the world.

If England's spinners had bowled the length they did to take the last three wickets on day five throughout the match, the game would have been over earlier.

All three dismissals were on the right length - tossed up and full. That is how Moeen Ali found Niroshan Dickwella's edge and spun the ball between Suranga Lakmal's bat and pad and why Malinda Pushpakumara chipped it back to Jack Leach.

We did not see enough bowling like that from both sides. Granted, sweeping on a length makes the bowler think they have to drop it a bit shorter, but it is also very hard to sweep a half-volley and that really full length was the one to bowl on this pitch.

Burns' technique works for him - and that's what counts

England opener Rory Burns raises his bat to salute the crowd after reaching his fifty during the second Test against Sri Lanka
Opener Rory Burns set the tone for England's second innings with 59 off 66 balls

Rory Burns played really well in making his maiden Test fifty on day three. I have been mildly amused at people talking about the quirky nature of his batting.

You are allowed an unusual backlift if the bat comes down straight, and he gets in a good position when he plays. I do not see any issue at all.

I played with one of the quirkiest batsmen there has ever been in Peter Willey - he was absolutely front on when he took his guard - so I am all for it if it works for Burns.

He concentrated hard and I am pleased to see he put away that little flick towards mid-wicket that he played in Galle against the off-spinner, which was a risk too far. It suggests he has gone away and worked at his game.

Sri Lanka batsman Angelo Mathews
Angelo Matthews hit 88 - his third fifty in four innings this series - before falling late on day four

Sri Lanka's batting was a bit frenetic and, with Rangana Herath retiring after the first Test, they miss a steadying influence with the ball.

But they have a standout cricketer in Angelo Mathews. I hope the issues between him and the board that saw him sacked as captain and dropped from the one-day squad are laid to rest as quickly as possible.

Sri Lankan cricket needs Mathews. The World Cup needs Mathews. He is a superb cricketer and cannot bowl at the moment, which Sri Lanka are also missing.

The same criticism of England's spinners is applicable to Sri Lanka's too. They have got to work hard to prevent England from beating them 3-0 when the final Test starts in Colombo on Friday.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport's Jack Skelton.

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