Joe Root feels England are “pretty much on track” to achieve their goal of becoming the No. 1-ranked Test team.
Their series victory in Sri Lanka means England are guaranteed to rise to No. 2 in the world irrespective of the result in the final Test, which starts in Colombo on Friday.
But Root feels his side would take “a huge amount of confidence” by becoming just the third side to complete a 3-0 whitewash over Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and suggests “it would be nice” if England’s next tour was in India where they would have, he believes, “a good chance of success”.
“From the start, we tried to plan out how to get to No. 1 in the world and we’re pretty much on track,” Root said. “It’s a great incentive to the group.
“Only two side have won 3-0 here: India last year and Australia in 2004. And they were both the No. 1 side. So it would give the guys a huge amount of confidence if we could carry the momentum, skill levels and smart nature with which we’ve played these first two Tests into the next one.
“It would be a nice follow-on to this tour to be going on and playing in India now. It’s a very difficult place to go and play, but we would have a good chance. Better than we had previously.
“It’s hard to say [how we would do], but the most important thing is that we’re on that upward curve. We’re where we want to be.”
Root’s confidence is based on the success England have had with their new method in Sri Lanka. Where once England’s batsmen tended to take a cautious approach to spin bowling, they now appear determined to take the attack to it.
Meanwhile their usual reliance upon their seamers has been replaced, in part at least, by trust in a three-man spin attack which, in offering variety and depth, has tended to be worth more collectively than the sum of its parts. And, both at home and abroad, they are currently blessed to have several allrounders in their side which has deepened their batting and bowling resources.
Root’s confidence does have to be tempered, though. This is not a vintage Sri Lanka side and England have won only two – the last two – of their most recent 15 away Tests. They are still no closer to finding a No. 3 (Jonny Bairstow will be their fourth No. 3 of the series in Colombo and Jos Buttler had also been told he was going to fill the role if England bowled first in Galle).
Also, there is no obvious replacement for James Anderson in the pipeline and, while the opening batsmen have enjoyed an impressive start to their period together, it is too early to draw firm conclusions about the long-term futures of Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings.
“We’re not the finished article,” Root admitted. “We’re still learning and still improving. But we’re going in the right direction and sometimes you have to tinker with things to get to where you want eventually.”
Bairstow’s recall for this Test does provide him with an opportunity to stake a claim for that No. 3 position in the long term. With Ben Foakes having appeared to have nailed down the keeping position – despite being leading run-scorer in the series, he will still bat at No. 8 in Colombo – that No. 3 spot could be Bairstow’s only way back into the side.
“That’s definitely a strong option,” Root said. “He’s more than capable of doing it. He bats at the top of the order in one-day cricket and one thing we all know about Jonny is that whenever he’s got a point to prove, or he is up against it, he generally comes out and does something pretty special. Hopefully we see that determination and drive to really hammer that spot home for himself this week.
“It’s a really good opportunity for him to take his batting to another level. Over the last couple of years he’s been statistically one of the top 10 players in the world in Test cricket. It would be nice to see him really grab No. 3 by the scruff of the neck, use it as an opportunity and start consistently scoring big runs in this format.
“At the minute, keeping is not an option for him in this team. Jonny’s not done anything wrong [as keeper], but he has had a freak injury and is going to have to continue to work hard at his keeping and quietly wait for an opportunity if it comes.
“Ben Foakes has come into the side and batted magnificently well. We all know how good a wicketkeeper he is, but I think he’s probably exceeded expectations in that department as well. He deserves his opportunity.” (ESPNCricinfo)