Chris Silverwood was careful not to be too smug as he addressed the English media on Tuesday.
Just a few hours before his press conference, India had sealed a dramatic three-wicket win over Australia to take the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2-1. They had done so with a squad ravaged by injury, their talismanic captain Virat Kohli at home, storming the Gabba for the first time in 32 years. English schadenfreude was at an all-time high on Tuesday morning.
“It’s always nice to see people in opposition teams under pressure really,” offered the England coach when asked what he made of Australia’s defeat. “It shows that, if you do the basics well and get stuck in, we can beat them.”
Though only into his second year as England head coach, Silverwood’s smart enough to know he can’t afford to be too punchy with an Ashes to come at the end of the year. He certainly sees cues to take from the way India’s batsmen frustrated a world-class Aussie bowling attack, along with how a second-string bowling attack did for a line-up that retained the urn in the summer of 2019.
However, this was also a warning ahead of next month. Enjoying a day off after taking a 1-0 series lead against Sri Lanka with a seven-wicket win confirmed on Monday, England’s squad were able to watch the events at Brisbane. And as much as they would have enjoyed seeing their old enemy capitulate, these were words to the wise: next month’s four-match series is against an Indian side full of confidence and boasting enviable strength and depth in every department will be even tougher than first expected.
“Most of the boys back in the hotel were taking an interest. I think most of them appeared for lunch after India had won. So they were all staying watching. It’s great for them [India]. Obviously, they were under-strength but they’ve still got some very, very good players in there. It’ll make for a good series against us when we go over.”
Before they get there, they must triumph over Sri Lanka one more time on Friday. The second and final Test, which will also take place at Galle, comes with plenty to consider.
Rotation is expected, with James Anderson likely to come in for Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, isolating up until a couple of days before the start of the first match, fit for selection. He could replace Sam Curran as the designated bowling all-rounder.
Moeen Ali will not play a part. After testing positive for Covid-19 on 3 January - he and Woakes shared a car from Birmingham to London before the team flew up – he only returned from quarantine on Saturday. The primary aim will be to build up the off-spinners fitness for India.
It seems Olly Stone will be in line for just his second cap. The Warwickshire fast bowler debuted in the four-day match against Ireland in 2019, taking three for 29 in his only bowling innings. But he has yet to feature since, in part because of struggles with injury.
Over the years, England have been stung by a lack of pace on spinning pitches. And though Mark Wood’s 27 overs were without a dismissal at Galle, the extra point of difference a few extra miles-an-hour above 90 in conditions that do not offer much sideways movement for pace bowlers gave Sri Lanka’s batsman something more to think about. With such a short turnaround between games, and 16 more Tests to play this year, Wood is likely tag-out for the 27-year-old.
Even with the primary focus on achieving a 2-0 result, getting Stone competitive overs under his belt, especially on the subcontinent, will be a broader win. With Jofra Archer due back for India, England will not be short of speedsters to choose from. Ensuring they are all in peak condition and not over-stretched is imperative for the schedule that lies ahead. Stone, whose last two years have been blighted by side strains and back issues, is the one most in need of on-field experience.
“I am excited about him,” said Silverwood. “If you look, we’ve got Wood, Stone and Archer who can also hit 90+ mph. I think it’s great to have that in your armoury.
“What we’ve seen from Olly is that he hits the deck hard and bowls at pace. He is getting better and better in the areas he is bowling and the understanding of what he’s trying to do and the plans he is putting in place.
“We talk about having a varied attack and having everybody fit and ready go. At some point we probably do need to get him into the attack if we can. He’s got to earn his way there, which he is doing, he’s working hard and doing everything we ask of him. It would be great to get some Test experience in him at some point.”
As much as England may take joy from Australia’s current travails and their 1-0 lead, Friday also brings with it the prospect of a notable piece of history.
They sit on four successive wins away from home, equalling a feat last achieved between 1955 and 1957. Victory in the next Test will see them win five in a row for the first time since a sequence of seven between 1911 and 1914.
The current run in foreign conditions, which started with three wins in South Africa at the start of 2020, “is not rocket science” according to Silverwood. But through the simplicity he admired in India and sees in his own side. Particularly with the bat, which he hopes is a trend that will continue on.
“One of the things that we have done with the bat is we’ve scored 400 on many occasions,” he said. Indeed, the 421 in the first innings of Galle was the sixth occasion England have scored 400 or more in the last 12 Test, with a declaration of 391 for eight at Cape Town also in there for good measure. In the 12 Tests prior, they did not do this once.
"It’s really not rocket science, it’s just becoming really, really good at doing the basics well and implementing the plans that we put in place that we said we were going to do at the start of New Zealand (2019), when the journey began.”