Alastair Cook (212 runs at 71) – Only found his best form with the bat at Lord’s when the series was already secured, but there’s something to be said for a captain who can win two Tests without much of a personal contribution. Leading the side, he showed that his emerging willingness to set aggressive fields is here to stay, backing his seamers with a slip or two more than most captains these days and getting Moeen Ali into the game early. Understands the DRS better these days too, although Stuart Broad’s more circumspect approach is helping there too. Declared at Lord’s about 30 minutes earlier than anyone expected (or hoped).
Alex Hales (292 runs at 58) – Probably never going to be the right-handed Marcus Trescothick some of us once hoped for in the light of his white ball knocks, but he had a bit of luck, made the most of it, and has built a case as the best of those who have gone through the revolving door at the top of the order. Early on in his innings, can look to have that awkward combination of static feet and hard hands, but once in, uses his height and power well to look (perhaps) a little more secure than he is. Sixth man out at Headingley and in the second innings at Lord’s, so he definitely has some of the adhesive qualities all openers need.
Nick Compton (51 runs at 13) – If you’re out of form, you want to be making scores like 1 and 19 in a mid-table County Championship game at Uxbridge – and not in a showcase Test at Lord’s. But such has been the fate of Nick Compton, who just can’t get a run no matter where he plays cricket, tight in his movements, alternately impetuous and conservative in his shot selection and, ultimately, convincingly, fatally, looking a notch below Test class. Already the recipient of the dreaded reverse nod, it’s unlikely that he’ll get a third chance for the Three Lions – I wish him well at Middlesex.
Joe Root (87 runs at 22, 0 wickets) – Due a poor series and sure enough, he got one, with just his 80 at Chester-le-Street to remind us that he stands alongside Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli as one of the leading batsmen in the world. Will be looking to redeem himself with trademark busy innings in white ball cricket.
James Vince (54 runs at 14, 0 wickets) – His debut series, so criticism must be muted, but nobody likes to mix getting out when set with leaving and missing straight ones early on. With a career average of 40 (and many of those runs scored in Division Two) the feeling persists that he might just be (as has become the received wisdom about Nick Compton) short of the talent needed to deal with bowling a notch above what he is used to. We’ll know by the Autumn.
Jonny Bairstow (387 runs at 129, 19 catches) – Gilchristian in his ability to hit the reset button and get the innings going again with good cricket strokes and running as dynamic as has ever been seen from an Englishman, Jonny B finally realised his potential – well, half of it. His sense of freedom may be the product of batting being his alternate suit with wicketkeeping his other – so if you take the gloves away, will the magic with the bat go with them? Because the keeping, for all the appearances on the Sri Lankan scorecard, was very scratchy, not just in dropped catches and missed stumpings, but also in taking returns from the field, a skill executed to barely club standards at times. The feeling persists that had he never worn the gloves, he would still be in the team on merit at Number Five and we would be celebrating having cricket’s next superstar batsman in England’s ranks. He is probably fortunate that his most likely rival for the gloves isn’t much of an upgrade – though Jos Buttler was much improved behind the stumps last summer. Man of the Series.
Moeen Ali (189 runs at 63, 2 wickets at 90) – When the ball hits the middle of the bat, you could be forgiven for believing him to be animated by the spirit of David Gower, all left-handed, languid and lovely. When he wafts outside the off stump, you could be forgiven for believing… Well, you get the picture. His 155 at Chester-le-Street may have had its moments of fortune, but it took England from 227-5 to 498-9 dec, and that’s a tremendous contribution. His bowling was less impressive, but the first Test series of an English summer is not a happy hunting ground for a tweaker, though his opposite number, Rangana Herath, snared seven victims and looked a class or two above the Worcestershire man with the ball.
Ben Stokes (12 runs at 12; 1 wicket at 25) – England’s talisman was injured early on and sat out the last two Tests, his star quality revealed in how many times the television cameras picked him out in the crowds. England barely missed him due to Woakes’ fine form, but he’ll be welcomed back to the fold the moment he is fit enough to play.
Chris Woakes (105 runs at 53, 8 wickets at 19) – If the Chris Woakes of the last two Tests was the first Chris Woakes you had seen, you would think him a tremendous prospect – a batsman with a solid, compact defence and plenty of shots around the wicket and a bowler who kisses the deck at a good pace with a bolt upright seam. But the all-rounder is still fighting early impressions that he was a bit down on pace and that his batting was more suited to Nine than Eight – and, of course, that he is not Ben Stokes. When difficult days come – as they will – he needs to remember how impressive he was in the last two Tests. He will be back, Stokes or not.
Stuart Broad (23 runs at 8, 12 wickets at 25) – Went through a series without one of his famous streaks that can turn a Test in an hour, but bowled with great control, the long limbs all pointing in the right direction and the narky nastiness kept under wraps, any anger channeled into just the right level of aggression for a fast bowler. He will bowl worse and post better numbers, but he won’t mind that – he played a full part in a solid series win. Just six Tests off joining the 100 club, a fine achievement for a big quick.
Steven Finn (41 runs at 10, 7 wickets at 28) – At times, the Middlesex man looked a bit like a bowling robot V 1.0, the whole business of arriving at the crease, getting the arm round and the ball to the other end seemingly the product of code still too full of bugs. To his credit, Finn recognised this and clearly had done some work before playing on his home ground in the third Test. Nobody would say that he was back to his best – there’s some rhythm and five mph yet to find – but it’s coming back.
Jimmy Anderson (13 runs at 13, 21 wickets at 11) – Though the Burnley Express was born to bowl in the early summer at England’s northerly latitudes, he exploited them to the hilt in the first two Tests, finding the length that pulled batsmen forward and then the swing and seam to jag the ball in or out. It may have “only” been Sri Lankan batsmen, fish out of water until they eventually got some time in the middle, but he would have troubled the 1948 Australians at Headingley. Often bowled as fast as he has in years, with a bouncer that discomfited batsmen, another testament to how aligned he was at the crease and the precision of his timing in which the release is critical. His continuing fitness is an oft-ignored aspect of his success – he looks, just a few weeks short of his 34th birthday, in prime physical condition a tribute to his own self-discipline and to the England backroom staff who don’t quite get the criticism these days that was routine a few years ago.