Wednesday 26 February 2020 6:32 pm

England Lions' success in Australia comes as a welcome boost for Sri Lanka tour and the 2021 Ashes

Coming at the end of a successful tour of South Africa for England and in the same country as the current Women’s T20 World Cup meant the exploits of England Lions in Australia were always likely to fly under the radar.

But the achievements of England’s development side deserve attention, because earlier this week they picked up their first ever win over Australia A. 

That victory, which came at the imposing venue of the MCG, under lights and using the unfamiliar pink ball, is even more impressive considering the injuries to Lewis Gregory and Richard Gleeson and the fact the home side’s XI contained nine full internationals with more than 150 caps between them. 

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Test match regulars Marcus Harris and Usman Khawaja opened the batting for the hosts, while their bowling attack was led by former Test seamer Jackson Bird and Michael Neser, who is knocking on the door of selection.

The Lions, who conclude the tour against a New South Wales XI in Wollongong on Monday, are unbeaten so far Down Under, winning the three completed one-day matches and drawing the other four-day game. 

Ashes on the mind

While the development of talents like Essex batsman Dan Lawrence, Gloucestershire wicket-keeper James Bracey and Durham seamer Brydon Carse are encouraging in the long-term, it is the positive experiences of England Test players which are relevant in the short-term.

Richard Dawson’s side will be without Dominic Sibley, Zak Crawley, Keaton Jennings and Dom Bess for their final match because they are flying off to Sri Lanka to join up with the senior team ahead of their two-Test tour of the country next month.

Dom Sibley and Dan Lawrence
Sibley and Lawrence put on 219 together at the MCG (via Getty Images)

Sri Lanka and the first Test in Galle on 19 March is of immediate concern, but there is no doubt the coaching staff, which includes former Test batsman Jonathan Trott and Somerset head coach Jason Kerr, will have had one eye on the Ashes in November 2021.

When naming the squad in December, national selector Ed Smith described the tour as “an opportunity to provide players with relevant experience for future Ashes series”.

Reflecting now, that mission can certainly be deemed a success.

Important experience

England’s latest opening pair Sibley and Crawley have been afforded time to cement their understanding, playing at the top of the order together across four innings in Hobart and Melbourne.

Sibley has continued to impress, scoring centuries in both games, and while Crawley has not troubled the scorers much the feeling is, at 22, any time in the middle is time well spent.

Australia A v England Lions
England won the match by nine wickets at the MCG (via Getty Images)

Jennings was a surprise recall for the Sri Lanka tour after a year out of the side, so a chance to captain the Lions in a successful period should do his confidence plenty of good – as will his innings of 141 in the high-scoring draw in Tasmania.  

With seamers Craig Overton and Ollie Robinson leading the way with 13 wickets across the two innings at the MCG, Bess’s off-spin had to take a back seat.

But the 22-year-old still managed to claim the important wickets of Harris and Moises Henriques in the second innings, getting 68 overs in altogether over the two games.

The Ashes are a long way off, but as England look to evolve under the coaching of Chris Silverwood these experiences could yet prove crucial to their success.