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JOE ROOT advised his England side to “stay hungry” after giving themselves the perfect start to a big year with a 2-0 series win in Sri Lanka.
England walked out on day four of their second Test in Galle with everything still to do in a game, but left the field deep into the evening session with a six-wicket victory under their belts.
To get there the tourists needed to be ruthless with the ball and resilient with bat, and found a handful of key performers to carry them over the line.
Spinners Jack Leach and Dom Bess shrugged off their first-innings frustrations, when they drew blank for 64 overs, taking four wickets each as the hosts collapsed to 126 all out.
Opener Dom Sibley shelved his run of low scores to make 56 not out as he and the fluent Jos Buttler (46 not out) led their team to their target of 164.
England will enjoy their achievement before swiftly departing for India and an even stiffer four-Test series, the next staging post in a packed 2021 that concludes with an Ashes trip Down Under.
And Root, man-of-the-series for his 426 runs, was looking forward rather than back. “That is exactly what we wanted. The challenge now is to replicate this over and over again as a team,” he said.
“We have to look at this as a platform, a starting position, and not be happy with what we’ve achieved here. We’ve got four very important games coming up against arguably the best team in the world in their own conditions.
“But the guys know there is so much further this group can go. We have just got to stay hungry and we have just got to keep looking to get better.
“We’ll have to play right at the top of our game to win out in India, but we couldn’t be in a better place to go and challenge them. That really excites me and it should excite the rest of the group as well.”
Root will be particularly satisfied that the final day of the Sri Lanka series saw less-established squad members step up to carry the load.
Another day of wickets from James Anderson or another handy knock of his own might have achieved the same result, but to see Leach, Bess and Sibley take the burden was a positive development for the wider squad.
“It’s nice to see their hard work paying off. We’ve had very good conversations about how to play in these conditions with bat and ball, and I thought they executed really well today,” said Root. “They know that they want to keep getting better, that there’s further they can go and more they can do. It’s exciting to see them have success and know they want to keep improving.”
Sibley falls firmly into that category, having emerged from scores of four, two and zero to play his part in a memorable win. He was overheard on the stump microphone during his innings telling wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella he was unsure whether he would hold his place in India, given his run of form, and he carried that honesty into his post-match interview.
He told the host broadcasters: “I’ve had a bit of a stinker in this series. I started to doubt myself a little bit before today. It was nice to spend some time at the crease and give myself a chance.
“Watching Joe Root makes you feel a little inadequate, to be quite frank! He’s made it look so easy.
“It was just a case of believing, and trying not to doubt myself too much, even though I’d had three failures to the same bowler [Lasith Embuldeniya].
“I was trying to spend 20 balls, 30 balls to try to get into the innings a little bit and build the partnership, and take the focus off myself.”
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