Ciderabad comes good
Somerset's policy of producing spinning pitches at their Taunton home has not been universally popular. Angus Fraser, the Middlesex director of cricket, labelled one such surface "disgraceful" and Paul Allott, his counterpart at Lancashire, wasn't much more flattering. But, by preparing turning pitches, Somerset have aided the development of Jack Leach (and Dom Bess) and, in doing so, helped England find a spinner who is used to bowling in such circumstances. As a result, Leach didn't panic or become over-excited when confronted by spinning conditions in Pallekele - conditions described as "extreme" by Joe Root - and, in just his third Test, emerged as the leader of England's spin attack. For once you go Jack, you never go back. So, while Somerset seem to live with the threat of a points penalty for those surfaces, perhaps they should be rewarded for their contribution towards a memorable England success?
Planning pays off
It was no coincidence that Ben Foakes looked so assured with a century on Test debut. Foakes had not only toured Sri Lanka previously with the England Under-19s and England Lions (three times), but enjoyed a placement with Colts CC, a club in Colombo. As a result, he had found a way to adapt to the surfaces and knew what to expect in terms of the oppressive heat and humidity. Nor was he alone: several of this squad had enjoyed similar experiences in recent times, with Keaton Jennings, Sam Curran and Leach also on the most recent Lions tour to Sri Lanka in early 2017. So, despite the fact that James Anderson was the only man in the team to have previously played a Test in Sri Lanka, and despite an abbreviated warm-up period ahead of the games, England went into the series knowing what to expect.
Sri Lanka's slip in standards
Without wanting to take anything away from England's success, it does have to be acknowledged that Sri Lanka are not the side they used to be. The mid-series retirement of Rangana Herath means that, for the first time in many years, their side doesn't contain a player who could reasonably be described as a great and there have been moments in the series - such as Kusal Mendis driving Leach to mid-off in Galle or Niroshan Dickwella missing the stumping of Curran in Pallekele - when they have fluffed their lines at key moments. Their recent record, which includes a series win over Pakistan in the UAE, proves they are not a poor side, but it would be disingenuous to pretend they are as strong as they once were.
Allrounders enhance attack
The presence of three or four allrounders in England's side lends them remarkable depth and flexibility. It means they can field six bowlers - including three spinners of different varieties - and bat well down the order. As a result, they are tough to kill off for opposition bowling attacks and Root nearly always has someone relatively fresh to turn to in the field. It is telling that, across the game in Pallekele, England's tenth-wicket pairs added 101 runs; bearing in mind the final margin of victory, the value of that depth is easy to appreciate. But perhaps the biggest benefit in this series has been shown in the spin attack. With Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid knowing the team is less reliant upon to perform the holding role - Leach or the seamers can do that - they have been able to relax and concentrate on their strength, which is to attack. Most sides wouldn't be able to afford their spinners to go at over three an over (Moeen is conceding 3.45 and Rashid 3.26) but Moeen is the joint top wicket-taker in the series and Rashid has made several vital breakthroughs, such as his removal of Dinesh Chandimal in Galle,
Fielding reveals teams' characters
Nothing differentiates the sides more than the fielding. In both innings in Pallekele, Dimuth Karunaratne appeared to be batting Sri Lanka into a position of strength. And in both innings, his innings was ended by an exceptional piece of fielding. Nor was it a one-off: Ben Stokes and Jennings pulled off another great catch apiece, while Foakes' keeping is of such a high standard that Jos Buttler - not so long ago, a potential long-term option for the role - admitted he had provided a "wake-up call" regarding the standards required in the job. Meanwhile Dickwella missed that stumping, Malinda Pushpakumara missed an easy catch on the boundary and, at times when the field should have come in to save singles, they stayed on the boundary, showing poor game awareness. It was a point accepted by Sri Lanka's coach Chandika Hathurusingha, when he said fielding had to "be looked at as a No. 1 thing".
Bravery earns its rewards
The character of England cricket has changed a great deal in recent years. Where once they had a reputation for being careful, in selection and tactics, they now have a reputation for aggression. If that transition started in the one-day side, it soon spread to the Test team who have seen - and in many cases experienced - the success the white-ball sides have had when they have trusted in their skill and adopted an uncompromisingly positive approach. It's probably a trait that has been most obvious in their batting. There was a time, before the advent of DRS, when batsmen would combat spin bowling by use of the feet and the pad. But times have changed and England have had to find a new method. That method, on the whole, has been to sweep. So while more wickets fell to the sweep in Pallekele than in any previous Test, the shot also earned England a huge proportion of their runs. Root admitted the plan to attack was born, in part, from a difficulty in trusting their own defences against the spinning ball, but it has worked well. The attitude has extended to selection, too. It took some courage to leave out Stuart Broad, the second highest wicket-taker in England's Test history, and instead play two debutants and a 20-year-old allrounder, but it's been vindicated by a rare and impressive away win in Asia.