England get the ball rolling with historic triumph

England won by 7 wkts | PLAYER OF THE MATCH Joe Root

Although it may have been more hard-fought than might have been expected at the halfway stage of the game, England's win in the first Test in Galle was their fourth consecutive overseas victory, following the three they registered in South Africa this time last year. The last England team to do that was back in 1957. It has only ever happened seven times in total since their first overseas tour to Australia in 1877.

If nothing else, then, Joe Root's team have started a potentially historic year of Test cricket by creating some history of their own in Galle. This was not a vintage performance, particularly on days three and four, although, given the severe lack of preparation time, the conditions, the absence of four players who probably would have made the final XI and the difficulty of away teams winning in Galle, it is an excellent result nonetheless.

The victory ensures that England cannot lose this two-match series and that is not nothing either given their recent record away from home. They have lost five of their previous seven overseas series and remain very much a work in progress outside England where too often they have resembled dishevelled backpackers desperately searching for a pint of ale and a roast dinner to remind them of the comforts of home. Furthermore, following a run of slow starts in series, they have now won the opening Test of their last two rubbers. Again, that is more progress.

There was a lot of good in England's performance. Although they were given significant help by Sri Lanka's horror show of a first innings, England still had to take advantage. It is something they have not always done away from home. Scoring more than 400 in their first innings, a key tenet of their game-plan under head coach Chris Silverwood, was a good effort on a tricky pitch and put them in control. It was the sixth time in 13 Tests they have passed 400 in their opening innings having done it just twice in their previous 26 matches.

The cornerstone of that total was Root's double hundred, important not just to the outcome of this match but also for his confidence ahead of the bigger challenges that lie ahead. There were also excellent contributions from Jonny Bairstow and Dan Lawrence in both innings, two players not currently in England's first choice batting line-up but who will now be difficult to leave out. On his debut, Lawrence played with a rare confidence, particularly in the second innings when he arrived at the crease with England wobbling at 14-3.

England picked three seamers and they did a good job on a pitch which offered them little in the way of conventional or reverse swing. Stuart Broad was the pick of them, taking the remarkable figures of 26-14-34-3 across the two Sri Lankan innings. He is bowling as well as he ever has done for England. In the left-armer Sam Curran and the pace of Mark Wood, Root had plenty of variety to turn to which is a template England would do well to follow as they move through this winter.

Before the series began, Jos Buttler's keeping was the subject of debate given the presence of Ben Foakes, man of the series during the 2018 series, in the squad. Buttler responded with his best performance behind the stumps in Test cricket while Root's catching at slip was excellent too. England did, however, drop seven catches across the two innings which is an area of their game that still requires significant improvement.

It is not the only one. England will need to improve for the second Test, which begins on Friday (January 22), and for the series against India next month. That Sri Lanka even had a sniff of victory on the final day represented a turnaround of significant proportions. They faced a deficit of 286 going into their second innings on a pitch which was turning sharply and bouncing abruptly. By rights, England should not have had to bat again.

That they did was down to a combination of factors. The most important was that Sri Lanka played some excellent cricket in the second half of the game. They took England's last six wickets for 49 runs in the first innings and then batted with far more discipline and better shot selection than they had on the first day. Presented with that stiffer challenge in the second innings, however, England's spinners were disappointing for much of it as they struggled to adapt to a slow pitch.

Even so, Dom Bess and Jack Leach each ended up with a five-wicket haul, Bess in the first innings and Leach in the second, and 14 wickets between them in the game. This was despite neither of them bowling particularly well until the fourth afternoon, straying in length too often. Given the pair's lack of match practise in the past six months, their rustiness was understandable, but combined figures of eight for 222 across 74.5 overs in Sri Lanka's second innings, on a pitch that offered them plenty of assistance, was clearly a disappointment.

England captain Joe Root was on the brink of his 18th Test century as the tourists reached 206 for three at lunch on day two of the opening match against Sri Lanka in Galle on Friday.
Following a rain-hit first session, Root will resume on 99 having put on an unbeaten fourth-wicket stand of 75 in just 18.4 overs with debutant Dan Lawrence, who has impressed with his array of attacking strokes to reach 40 not out.
England have a lead of 71 runs after they skittled brittle Sri Lanka for 135 on the opening day.
It is already a commanding position on a wicket taking plenty of turn and showing signs of deterioration that will make batting increasingly difficult.
After the first 70 minutes of the day were lost to rain, the tourists resumed on their overnight 127 for two but lost Jonny Bairstow before he could add to his score of 47.
He prodded forward to a delivery from left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya (3-80) and was caught at slip by Kusal Mendis.
That ended a stand of 114 for the third wicket but any hopes from the home side that it would precipitate a collapse were quickly ended by Root and Lawrence.
Root is set to complete his third century against Sri Lanka. He has only scored more against India, having reached the milestone on four occasions.