England learned little from win over Sri Lanka - Jonathan Agnew
Last updated on .From the section Cricket
England's big victory in the first Test against Sri Lanka turned out to be rather predictable.
Faced with conditions so helpful to the pace bowlers, an inexperienced and underprepared Sri Lanka team were always going to be outplayed, although perhaps not to the tune of an innings-and-88-run defeat, the 13th-fastest in terms of balls bowled in the history of Test cricket.
Naturally, it is great for the home side that England won, but the nature of that victory does raise some serious questions about the scheduling and venues of these early season matches.
I don't understand why Sri Lanka have been sent to Leeds and Durham for these opening two Tests.
You could say that the cold, grey conditions quite likely in the north of England at this part of the year give the hosts their best chance of winning - but there's much more to it than that.
While you certainly do not want to give the opposition a leg-up, you have to do what's best for Test cricket. That includes providing the best possible spectacle, ensuring the match is a contest and giving value for money to those who have tickets.
Sri Lanka being shot out for 91 and 119 before the close on day three does none of those things and is no help to people who wanted to see cricket on days four and five or those who want to maximise income from these international matches.
There are questions hanging over these May Test matches, not least because their continued existence prevents England players from going to the Indian Premier League.
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Next year, they won't be held at this time because of the Champions Trophy but, after that, should we look at where these matches are played?
This year, Lord's was not available for the first two Tests (it will stage the third) because of work being done to the Warner Stand, while the other ground in London, The Oval, usually stages the final match of the summer.
Could Surrey and The Oval volunteer to do something that is best for the game and take on one of the early summer matches? I doubt that will happen.
This all means that England have found few answers to the questions I posed before the Test began.
The middle-order batsmen spent next to no time at the crease, while Moeen Ali was only required to bowl one over of his off spin.
We did learn that James Anderson, below his best on the winter tour of South Africa, has his legs back and looks to be at his peak.
Speaking to me after the match, Anderson admitted that he struggled in South Africa, but he has benefitted so much from playing three County Championship matches for Lancashire. When it comes to exploiting the sort of conditions we saw at Headingley, Anderson is peerless.
Before the match I said I was surprised that England had stuck with Alex Hales, but he battled hard for a patient 86 that saw the home side through a tough spell on the opening day.
It was an admirable innings and he will be furious to be caught on the boundary just short of a maiden Test century.
That is the way in which he plays. The chance to be caught in the second-slip area may still remain but, in friendlier conditions, Hales could well take some attacks apart.
As for Jonny Bairstow, he confirmed that he is the real deal as England's wicketkeeper-batsman.
Captain Alastair Cook was right when he said that Bairstow's 140 made batting look different to the other 21 players in the match and, added to nine catches, the Yorkshireman was named man of the match.
However, with some scrutiny still on his wicketkeeping, Bairstow will be cross that he did drop a catch, one that denied him the chance to join AB de Villiers as the only man to score a century and take 10 victims in a match.
Still, the joyful, ebullient Bairstow is full of confidence at the moment and I think we'll see even better things from him.
Apart from that, England are no further on from where they were on Thursday morning.
For that reason, it might be best for this team if we have some un-English conditions for the rest of the summer. Grey sky and the ball whizzing about might help England in beating Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but it will do little to set them up for their winter tours.
Instead a long, hot summer with dry pitches would bring the spinners in to play and get the batsmen more used to long, patient innings against slower bowling.
If not, England could well find themselves ill-prepared for the seven Tests that await in Bangladesh and India.