Bayliss reserves judgment on Burns and Jennings as England are challenged to improve further

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Nov
26

7:35 AM ET

Trevor Bayliss has warned that it is too soon to say whether Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings can be considered England’s answers to their long-term problem at the top of the Test batting order, in spite of the key contributions they made to a memorable 3-0 series whitewash against Sri Lanka.

Speaking in the aftermath of England’s 42-run win on the final day in Colombo, Bayliss admitted that the Test team remains far from the finished article, in spite of what he described as a “great result” in achieving the team’s first overseas clean sweep since 1963.

And, despite praising his players for the manner in which they bought into the positive strategy that, as a former Sri Lanka coach, he felt was required for success on their spin-dominant pitches, he insisted that “statistics will tell the story” as to whether Jennings and Burns can forge long-term futures in the side.

Of the two, Jennings produced the most memorable performances, compiling a match-defining century in the first Test at Galle while excelling himself under the helmet at short leg with a succession of world-class interventions in all three games. However, he also came into the series under the greater scrutiny, having averaged just 18.11 in five Tests against India last summer.

Burns, meanwhile, made a key pair of contributions to the second Test at Kandy, including a maiden Test half-century in the second innings in which he shelved his natural game to give England a brisk start in overturning a first-innings deficit. But he still finished the series with a middling return of 155 runs at 25.83 in the three matches.

“I probably don’t think so,” Bayliss told Sky Sports when asked if the pair had done enough to cement their places in the longer term. “Obviously statistics will tell a story there, they are still both fairly young in the Test game, and have shown some good character in the way they’ve gone about it. It’s been exceptional at times, but in the end, for every one of the 11, runs and wickets count.”

On the subject of England’s overall strategy – one which clearly paid dividends in the course of the series – Bayliss admitted that there had been times, not least in the first innings at Galle, when they had veered on the side of reckless, but reiterated his belief that positivity and aggression were the way to go in conditions he knew well from his four-year stint with the Sri Lanka team from 2007 to 2011.

“In the past, teams have come here and decided to bunker down, wait for the bad ball and bat for a long time,” Bayliss said. “But quite simply, with the spin over here, eventually there’s going to be a ball with your name on it, so we decided to take the attack to them. Don’t let them dictate to us, we wanted to dictate to them. We thought it was the way to go, and certainly panned out that way in the first two games.”

“We said after that first day in Galle [when England went to lunch on 113 for 5], that first session we were a bit frenetic. There’s a fine line between being busy and looking to score, being mentally positive, and going over the top and trying to hit good balls for runs. You still have to defend well and hit the bad ball for four. With that mental approach, if you are in the right frame of mind, your feet move well and you make good decisions.”

Bayliss did, however, concede that the demands of England’s fast-paced strategy had put particular pressure on Jennings, Burns and Ben Foakes, the eventual Man of the Series, but a player who – by his own admission at Galle – is more comfortable with grinding his runs than blazing them in the manner of his more expansive batting colleagues.

“Foakes, Jennings and Burns are three guys who probably haven’t got as many shots as the other boys,” said Bayliss. “But they went about their game in a positive manner as well, they were able to rotate the strike and put pressure on the opposition by playing their game, and when they got a bad ball, they put it away for four.”

In spite of his own success, Foakes in particular will be under pressure going into the West Indies tour, and ultimately the 2019 Ashes, from his rival for the wicketkeeper’s role, Jonny Bairstow, who made it clear after his comeback century at Galle that he would not be satisfied at playing as a specialist batsman.

Asked if that burgeoning rivalry was one to keep an eye on, Bayliss said: “The short answer is yes, we don’t want to put any undue pressure on other people. But it does keep the guys in the team on their toes and, in the long run for England, that’s a good thing when you’ve got competition for places and depth to select from. Even Jos Buttler wants to keep, but the way Foakesy has gone in this series, he’ll definitely be in for the next one.

“Since I’ve been here, every time there’s been a challenge thrown to Jonny, he’s been able to come out and score some runs,” Bayliss added. “The trick for us is to try to come up with a challenge for him every time he comes out to bat. He’s got the goods, and the challenge for him will be at home on seaming wickets, but he’s got the talent to master that as well.”

In keeping with his reserved judgment on England’s overall series performance, Bayliss also mixed praise for his captain, Joe Root, with mild criticism of his personal contribution of 229 runs at 38.16, as he challenged the side to get better and better in all departments.

“He’s probably disappointed with the amount of runs he’s scored, even though he’s scored a great hundred up in Kandy,” said Bayliss. ” I think more so from a captaincy point of view, he’s really been in charge, you can tell in the changing room he’s in charge, and some of his decisions out in the field have been pretty good. I still feel there’s a lot of improvement in these guys yet, which is an exciting thing for England cricket.”

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