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’s 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.”
Welcome to Saturday’s live cricket blog.
The Sport360 team is in place bringing you the latest news from around the world as we follow and build up to some big matches.
Sri Lanka v England is on the docket today, while Pakistan v New Zealand is live too.
7:30 pm – South Africa win one-off T20
South Africa defeated Australia by 21 runs in a rain-affected Twenty20 international in Carrara.
The weather almost prevented any play but, after a delay of more than two hours, a game of 10 overs a side was possible.
For more, click here.
7:00 pm – Kiwis hit back
New Zealand hit back on the second day of the first Test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
After being bowled out for 153, the tourists restricted Pakistan to 227 in their first innings despite 62 from Babar Azam.
New Zealand then dug in to reach 56 for one when bad light stopped play.
11:14am – Jack Leach puts England in commanding position
Jack Leach struck three times with the new ball as England positioned themselves for a series-clinching victory in the second Test against Sri Lanka.
The tourists set a winning target of 301 after being bowled out for 346 on the fourth morning, Ben Foakes finishing 65 not out after he and James Anderson added a further 22 for the final wicket.
Read the full story here.
10:55am – Haris Sohail looks to pile on the runs against sorry Blackcaps
A big second day lies ahead for Pakistan and New Zealand in Abu Dhabi.
Follow the action with our live ball-by-ball coverage right here.
10:36am – Jack Leach rips through hosts as they chase big total
Do not miss any of the action from Sri Lanka v England by following our live ball-by-ball coverage from Kandy below, here.
Pakistan earned a 74-run lead in the first Test against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi after being dismissed for 227.
The Blackcaps were all out for 153 on the first day on Friday before they fought back with the ball on Saturday.
Left-arm seamer Trent Boult picked up four wickets to restrict Pakistan, for whom Babar Azam top-scored with 62.
In the second innings, the visitors were 56-1, trailing by 18 runs when bad light forced early stumps.
Follow the action with our live ball-by-ball coverage below: