Joe Root intends to see off 2018 in style after banishing memories of a bruising start to the year.
When the third Test against Sri Lanka begins in Colombo on Friday, Root’s side know victory would make them just the third England team in history to complete an overseas whitewash in a series of three or more matches.
To do so against hosts who have only ever lost 3-0 in their own conditions twice, against Australia and India sides ranked number one in the world, would make it all the sweeter. More satisfying than any statistical landmarks, though, is the scale of the revival over the past 12 months.
England began the year by being swept away in Sydney, where Root and company were condemned to an innings defeat and a sorry 4-0 scoreline.
The England captain had it even worse than his team-mates – laid low and briefly hospitalised by a severe bout of gastroenteritis as Australia reclaimed the urn.
The next Test match saw England skittled for 58 by New Zealand in March and left asking searching questions about their future following another innings defeat.
Now, after three defeats and a draw in their first four Tests of 2018, England are looking to sign off with their ninth win out of 10.
“Thanks for reminding me of that,” said Root, when invited to cast his mind back to the dark days at the SCG.
“It’s been quite a journey for the group of players, the Test team. We did start the year in difficult circumstances and weren’t playing our best cricket but we’ve found a way to get to a really strong position.
“There’s been a few changes along the way but as a group we’ve found a way we want to go about things. It’s been really pleasing that everyone has bought into that and given us a great opportunity to hopefully win this series 3-0.
“That would be massive for this team. One area where we’ve not been as good as we can be in the past is winning back to back games and this would be a great opportunity for us to show we’re becoming more consistent, that we’re finding ways of winning and playing good cricket for longer periods of time. It would be a brilliant achievement which would fill us with a huge amount of confidence.”
England have made two changes to the XI which triumphed at Galle and Pallekele, with Jonny Bairstow recalled at number three following Sam Curran’s injury while Stuart Broad replaces fellow veteran James Anderson.
Having played 111 Tests together it an unusual situation for England’s champion seamers to be job-sharing a spot in the side rather than teaming up with the new ball, but Root has cautioned against reading too much into it.
“I’m very aware how talented our two senior guys are. We generally get very excited about wishing people retirement and I think with those two in particular we have to make the most of them while we can,” he said.
“As far as I’m concerned I want to get the most out of them for as long as we can. We need to be smart about managing them and see how long they can go for but they both look on top of their game at the moment, if you ask me.
“They’re both bowling fantastically well and keep looking to improve and get better.”