Back in August, Virat Kohli was at the wicket against England. Jimmy Anderson, his nemesis on India's tour four years earlier, had beaten him a few times with late outswingers before he found the outside edge with a ball that carried at a nice height to Keaton Jennings at slip, who dropped it. If there is such a thing as an easy slip catch, this was it. The moment was excruciating for those of us watching; for Jennings, it cannot have been much less humiliating than the most expensive drop in history - the one on June 5th 1994, which also took place at Edgbaston. As has been well documented, Brian Lara, who was batting for Warwickshire, had 18 when he offered a simple chance to Chris Scott, the Durham wicketkeeper, who shelled it. With resignation, Scott turned to Wayne Larkins at first slip and said something like "Oh dear, he'll probably make a hundred now." Er, no. 501.
Kohli made an otherwise hundred, and that catch and a run of low scores saw the pressure on Jennings come to close to unbearable. He was moved out of slip but, surprisingly, not out of the team. A selector's faith is rewarded in myriad ways, though one doesn't suppose Ed Smith and his backroom boys would have envisaged two of history's most remarkable catches being attributed to Jennings four and a half months later, in Pallekele.
The first of these was of his own doing, the second an assist. When Dananjaya de Silva pushed a full ball from Jack Leach a few inches off the ground in the direction of square leg, Jennings, at forward short-leg, intercepted with feline intuition and execution. Impossibly it seemed, his left hand clung onto the ball while his body went one way and that ball the other - an extraterrestrial effort if ever there was one. The assist that followed was no less astounding because Jennings actually anticipated the deft sweep Dimuth Karunaratne was shaping to play, and threw his body far to his left to effectively block the shot and parry the ball for Ben Foakes to catch. Eureka, twice over!
These two pieces of brilliance replaced the Ben Stokes wonder run-out and his sharpest of sharp catches at slip - both in the first innings - as the tour de force of England's effort in the field. Stokesy? Pah. It's @JetJennings, of course!
The performance that most captivated the audience, however, came from Joe Root with the bat. The captain played a captain's innings of such immense authority that it carried his own team while blowing the minds of his opponents. At one stage Sri Lanka appeared to have given up against Root, like he had cast a spell - which, in a way, he had. It is one thing to call for a more adventurous approach from your players, quite another to practise as you preach. Root's hundred had it all and will be best remembered for the sheer nerve of its context and the technical accomplishment that came with it. One day, when he looks wistfully back, he may think of it as the innings that confirmed perhaps his most inspirational quality - a complete lack of fear.
"One day, when Root looks wistfully back, he may think of the Kandy innings as the one that confirmed perhaps his most inspirational quality - a complete lack of fear"
Only a few players are lucky enough to have such mental strength and that much game, but rarely does one man win a cricket match alone. Root's risk-and-reward approach benefited from the solid foundation laid by two fellows who are clinging to the side of the rock of Test match cricket. The precarious nature of Jennings' place in the side has already been noted. Rory Burns is starting out and, by definition, has the jury's attention too. When first-innings scores are anywhere near parity, the third innings of a Test match assumes its greatest importance. Make a mess of it and you pretty much hand the opposition victory; nail it and you give your bowlers plenty of chips to play with. Burns made a fifty to savour; "Jet" just 26, but 26 that were worth more than their number. The pair put on 73 in about 18 overs of near perfect craftsmanship - defending the best balls, spanking the worst, and working the gaps to ensure a constant flow of runs that eased a nervous dressing room.
There is something about Burns to like. It is as if he relishes the business end, unravelling its complications and sending messages of hope to those down to follow. His twitchy set-up contradicts a generally measured approach that includes excellent back-foot play through the off side and an increasingly effective sweep shot to a range of close on 90 degrees. The captaincy of Surrey has bled into his cricket for England. Twice he was funortunate to be dismissed in Galle, but at no stage did he appear, or sound, sorry for himself. Maturity is not always found in one so green but the 43 he made in the first innings of this second Test, though not quite so fluent as the second-innings 59, was the work of a man who knew his game and his job.
Jennings is less easy to read. At times he hints at Marcus Trescothick, and therefore makes batting look rather easy. At other times he looks as if rigor mortis has set in. He has an equable temperament on his side - a most underestimated part of a colleague's appeal incidentally - and moves his feet better to the spinners than to the speedsters. He is a work in progress, one the selectors seem determined to complete, and is the most delightful young man: a cricketer without ego or any preconception of how the great world might spin. He has his ambition and pursues it as a matter of course, rather than as if he will live or die by it. This is in contrast to his father Ray, a brilliant South African wicketkeeper during the apartheid years, who had a little more edge.
At the moment the Burns-Jennings partnership has done enough to earn another chance in the Caribbean. Whether it survives until the start of the Ashes next July is another matter. This can also be said of the experiment that pits Stokes at No. 3. He was beaten by a fine ball in the first innings, having looked comfortable for 19 runs, and fell foul of an ugly shot two balls after taking guard lower down in the second. This writer's view remains that Root got it right and that Stokes is the one, but only the tally will tell.
The series has been won, then, a fine achievement on difficult fields to conquer. Root is savvy enough to know that the Sri Lankan cricket team is a shadow of its once formidable self and he will be aware that his spinners came through in circumstances and conditions that greatly favoured them. There are more taxing challenges ahead but you can only beat the enemy in front of you, and for now at least, that means Sri Lanka again, in Colombo. If nothing else, a 3-0 scoreline would confirm ruthlessness, as well as the glorious habit of winning.