A 4-1 series victory against India in home conditions was something to savour, but a trip to Sri Lanka was soon on the horizon. With no Cook for this tour, England would need to try a new opening combination.
Conditions in Sri Lanka were unlikely to favour the fast bowlers and there some speculation in advance that either Jimmy Anderson or Stuart Broad might be rested for the tour, particularly with a trip to the West Indies providing the opening chapter in the story of 2019. Both players made it clear that they were loath to miss out and were to make the squad.
The Sri Lankans, although struggling for form on their travels, had provided more difficult opposition at home in recent years. The likes of Australia and South Africa had suffered heavy defeats on the spin friendly surfaces that were frequently served up. England’s batsmen would need to quickly get to grips with the conditions, while England’s own spinners were likely to have a heavy workload.
Prior to the Test series, England warmed up with a convincing victory in the One Day international series (despite a batting collapse in the final match), together with success in the sole Twenty20 International. The First Test was to take place in Galle.
England’s performance at fortress Galle proved to be exemplary. An injury to Bairstow meant that Surrey wicketkeeper Ben Foakes was a late addition to the touring party. He made his international debut, scoring a century in the first innings, as England built a healthy lead. Keaton Jennings, whose place had been in some doubt, scored a big second innings century too, as England ran out winners by 211 runs.
The bowling of Moeen Ali was just as critical, as he emerged with match figures of 8-137. A useful contribution with the ball from Jack Leach helped to get England over the line in some style. The team had set a marker, demonstrating that they were capable of winning overseas in unfamiliar surroundings.
The Second Test, in Kandy, saw Sri Lanka take a first innings lead. Despite useful runs from England’s middle and lower order batsmen, it looked like the visitors would struggle to equal their result from the previous match. Fortunately, captain Root was in sparkling form, scoring 124 in the second innings. Foakes batted impressively, as he had done in the First Test, contributing an unbeaten 65.
Sri Lanka’s chase fell 57 runs short, with Leach (5-83) and Moeen (4-72) doing the damage. England had an unassailable 2-0 lead heading into the third and final Test match.
That Third Test, played in Colombo, was hard fought. England emerged victorious by 42 runs, thanks to some significant contributions by both batsmen and bowlers. Bairstow, on his return to the side, scored a first innings century. Elsewhere, there were half centuries from Stokes and Buttler.
When England came to bowl, they found that Rashid (with a 5 wicket haul in the first innings), Moeen and Leach were able to give them the upper hand. A difficult tour had been completed with a 3-0 series win.
2018 brought ups and downs for the England team. In limited overs cricket, there were notable successes against Australia (home and away), New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka. The only mark on the copybook was the surprising defeat against Scotland.
The Test match year had been more variable in nature. With an Ashes defeat, a series loss in New Zealand and a drawn series at home to Pakistan, the first half of the year would be placed in the “disappointing” category. But a 4-1 home victory against India and the convincing series win in Sri Lanka meant that they year ended on a high note. Players and supporters alike would look forward to 2019 with renewed confidence.