Today Daniel Booth looks at how England’s young players got on during the first Test in Galle. Who’s trending upwards and who’s trending in the wrong direction?
Infront of the keen crowd of one man on a hill, and several sleep-deprived fans back home, England took a 1-0 lead in a two Test series against Sri Lanka. In what will largely be remembered as the Test where Joe Root hit a whopping 228, there was another interesting story to follow – that of England’s young batsmen and their introduction to the sub-continent.
Indeed, it was something of a mixed bag for the gang of Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, and Dan Lawrence. I would go as far as saying that each of the three had a very different experience. This gives us a fantastic excuse to examine each one individually.
Spin Stops Sibley- Two Tricky Innings for Dom
The First Test was not much fun for Dom Sibley. With a return of 4 (15) in the first innings and 2 (5) in the second, Galle is unlikely to be his favourite ground in the world. Perhaps more frustrating for young Dom is that it was two different problems which led to the dismissals as opposed to one.
In the first innings, it was an edge that was fatal. Whereas it was the second which bore the somewhat painful sight of a batsman leaving a ball to freely kiss the stumps.
Galle presented a baptism of fire that has been a long time coming for the England opener. Against pace, Sibley is a wall. Happy to leave and block, Sibley scores where and when he feels comfortable. This has never been the case against Spin.
In sport the ‘eye test’ sometimes fails to match up with the statistical reality, this is no such scenario. Over his Test career, Sibley averages 39.30 against pace as opposed to 25.85 when facing spin.
This looks like a problem that will have no quick fix. The solution is likely to rest in experience and more hours in the nets. One potential idea may be to further develop a sweep shot. The sweep was the cornerstone of Joe Root’s score, and whilst easier said than done it would be shrewd to try and copy this aspect.
Crawley Comes Undone- Two Innings with an Air of Impatience
Watching Zak Crawley in Galle felt like watching a young man in a hurry. To his credit, this is an approach which has served him well thus far in the Test arena, you don’t score 267 against Pakistan if you’re scared to play your shots.
The question is simply whether Crawley could benefit from a touch more restraint on occasion in turning conditions. A fine example is his first dismissal against Sri Lanka. Last summer, Crawley scored big by attacking Yasir Shah’s leg spin. Scoring down the ground was his bread and butter. When trying the same tactic, the less favourable conditions quickly revealed themselves. The ball stayed low off the pitch, when Zak Crawley attempted to loft the ball it simply refused to comply.
Perhaps impatience can be excused more in the second innings, it is after all sorely tempting to try to get a small total as quickly as possible. It’s not wholly surprising that Crawley thought along those lines and quickly found himself dismissed.
The moral of the story is likely that Zak Crawley must learn to channel naked aggression when the conditions are simply not conducive for it. Root and Mathews built scores from a large volume of singles, and Crawley would be wise to follow suit. Back home, Crawley was averaging more against spin than pace (43.50 to 42.40) so I’m not going to pretend that I have the gall to tell him how to play. Simply, it may be wise to take a more measured approach sometimes.
Lovely Lovely Lawrence- It’s All in the Wrists
Dan Lawrence took his chance and ran with it. Having now written reams about struggling to play spin, Lawrence made it look at times like he was playing on a totally different pitch.
In his debut knock, Lawrence found a perfect balance between safety and scoring. It was a case of knowing when to pick your shots. Lawrence looked equally comfortable when leaving and stifling spin as he did dispatching a picture perfect six.
Of course, no knock is without wobbles. Lawrence was dropped twice, both times in the 60s. Wobbles which may have had more stock if not for the maturity shown in the second innings.
Visions of England collapsing for 50-odd runs flashed by when Joe Root was comedically run out, and become genuine terrors when Bairstow nearly repeated the trick a few balls later. Whilst it only took 21 runs from the Essex batsman, it should not go unsaid how admirably calm Dan Lawrence was to seal the win.
In performing so well, Lawrence has thrown his hat in the ring for the upcoming tour of India. It was the performance of a young man keen to show the world quite how good he can be in tricky conditions. Thankfully, picking the England batting order is somebody else’s problem and not mine.
Horses for Courses? Not So Fast
As naturally as a Brit making idle chitchat about the rain outside, Twitter discourse soon turned to whether or not England should look to change their batting options in the sub-continent.
In no small part down to the strong performance as a spin specialist of one Jonny Bairstow. I heard the name Keaton Jennings begin to reappear. A break glass in case of emergency option for batting in the sub-continent if ever there was one.
To this, I suppose I would say no thank you. In this case, the idea would be to drop one of the young options for a more tried and tested option. The problem with this is that it is the pinnacle of can kicking.
When a young player has an area of weakness, there’s sometimes a lack of willingness to let them play their way through trouble and figure things out. The answer always seems to be to just take them out of the firing line. What this can easily do is foster a group of players who find their development in certain areas stunted. Spin bowling does not disappear solely because you have chosen to hide players from it.
Yes, it may be ugly watching players fail. But is it not better that they develop now than face the same problem in five years’ time? I’m not suggesting that we should persist with players forevermore. It’s just a bit premature to write players off after one Test match in the sub-continent.
The Second Test may bring answers to some of these questions. It will certainly be a golden opportunity for our young players to gain more experience before the looming tour of India.
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