Farbrace calls for more, but England show glimpses of future strength

'We bowl with the right approach' - Farbrace (1:52)

England assistant head coach Paul Farbrace talks about England's performance on day 3 of the 3rd Test against Sri Lanka (1:52)

Every aspect of the England team will need to improve if they are to be rated the best side in the world, according to Paul Farbrace.

Farbrace, the side's assistant coach, was delighted with England's bowling performance on day three at Lord's but admitted that another top-order batting failure and some disappointing fielding towards the end of day two had provided a reminder of how far the team have to go before they can be considered one of the best in the world.

After taking the nine remaining Sri Lanka wickets within the first 50 overs of the morning, England slipped to 50 for 3 in the evening session before Alex Hales led a recovery. They still finished the day with a commanding lead and a decent chance of securing a 3-0 series whitewash, but Farbrace still knows tests await and that England's failings will be punished by better sides.

"If we are going to be the best team in the world - which is the aim we have - then every area of the team needs to get better," Farbrace said after day three.

"We've never said we're the finished team or the best team in the world. We've won some big series in the last few months, but we've been winning without contributions throughout.

"That's quite a good place to be in some ways. There are signs of being very good. And we know they're not machines. But it's about being as consistent as we possibly can be and we know we have a lot of work to do if we're to be the best side in the world."

However, with the ball this was a hugely encouraging performance. There have been more eye-catching displays: lower scores; quicker collapses and more impressive figures. But rarely in recent times have four England seamers combined as impressively as they did on the third day at Lord's.

There is a much-repeated theory that this England team are reliant upon overcast skies and green pitches to unlock batting line-ups. And it is true they are always going to be most potent in the sort of conditions we saw in Leeds a few weeks ago or in Birmingham and Nottinghamshire last year.

But here, on a slow surface and in conditions offering them little, they showed the control, the skill and the persistence to unlock a Test batting line-up that had looked dauntingly untroubled the night before. They may lack the bite of Mitchell Johnson - who unlocked a Test here last year with his pace - but when they combine like this they do offer a relentless challenge that will trouble most batting line-ups. Farbrace rated it the best flat-track performance they had shown since Dubai; a Test which featured Mark Wood and Ben Stokes in the attack.

Perhaps we saw a glimpse of the future, too. While James Anderson and Stuart Broad - the No. 1- and No.3-ranked bowled in the Test rankings - played their part to the full, it was noticeable that the pick of the bowlers were Chris Woakes and Steven Finn.

Woakes appears to be growing in stature by the session. Having finished the previous Test in Durham with his best match analysis to date, he has followed it with his highest score to date here.

But it is with the ball that he really impressed. Again proving to be the quickest member of the England attack - both in average and quickest deliveries - he extracted life from the surface that was absent for all other bowlers.

He was smart, too. Going a little wider of the crease for one ball to Angelo Mathews, he drew a shot from a batsman concerned about the effect of the slope, and took the edge of the bat having gained a little extra bounce. It was a wicket that would have pleased Glenn McGrath.

"It's the best I've seen him bowl," Farbrace said. "He had good pace and good control. He was outstanding."

It was telling that Alastair Cook, once so inflexible in his tactics, chose to open the bowling with Woakes in the morning. While there have been times that England, over the last few years, have reacted to situations like this - a slow, flat track and a well-set batsman - with a sense that they should hold something back in the knowledge that they could be in for a long haul, here they started with an intensity that allowed Sri Lanka no time to settle.

It wasn't just the bowlers, though. In the opening minutes, Alex Hales and Nick Compton pulled off impressive saves in the field and, after the somewhat resigned showing of the previous evening, the whole team seemed sharp and intent.

While Finn is still short of the pace that characterises his bowling at its best, he looked far better - tighter, more consistent, more economical - here than in Durham.

With Stokes and Wood well on the road to recovery - if all goes well, both could be available for selection by the mid-point of the Pakistan series - England may have some tricky decisions to make over the make-up of their line-up in the coming months. Bearing in mind their schedule, though, that is not a bad thing.

"We bowled much better this morning than we did yesterday," Farbrace continued. "There was a big discussion this morning about our approach and the consistency in terms of lines and lengths was exceptional."

England's dominant match position should not detract from another top-order failure with the bat. While Joe Root can be exonerated for his dismissal - he received, inexplicably, the one ball in the match to date to keep impossibly low - the absence of Cook with a bruised leg underlined the fragility of the rest of this top five.

Compton, his feet frozen in anxiety, was again slow to react to a regulation delivery on off stump and edged to the keeper. After failing to reach 30 in his 10 most recent Test innings, it seems inevitable that he has batted for the final time at this level. The fact that he has not done himself justice will sting for a long time, but the selectors have not been unreasonable or impatient. One day, he may look back with justifiable pride on his part in Test series wins in South Africa and India.

"It's been a tough series for Compo," Farbrace said. "He knows that. He's in the team to score runs. He's shown glimpses, but glimpses aren't always enough."

It is too early to draw such a conclusion over James Vince. He has, after all, been dismissed just four times and will almost certainly retain his place for the series against Pakistan. But there are some worrying signs.

It's not just that he has been bowled twice in this match by balls coming in at him down the slope - he has only played one previous first-class match at this ground so might be forgiven a bit of inexperience - but that research has shown that players who endure poor starts to their Test careers face a disproportionately tougher challenge to establish themselves.

There are, of course, numerous examples of players who have recovered from early setbacks to enjoy great careers - Graham Gooch and Steve Waugh are among the most obvious examples - but it doesn't take long for the voice of self-doubt to grow in volume. With an average of 13.50 from his first series, talk of him moving to No. 3 certainly looks premature at present, while the chasm between his average in Division One and Division Two - about 20 runs - is another nagging concern.

At least Hales continues to grow in stature. He was dropped on 19 and endured some anxious moments against Rangana Herath - bowling better with every spell - which is a bit of a concern ahead of the winter trips to Asia but he is looking ever more solid against the new ball.

Meanwhile England are expected to name their squad for the limited-overs matches on Monday. While some familiar names are set to return - Eoin Morgan will retain the captaincy despite his modest form at the last two global tournaments and Jos Buttler will reclaim the gloves - the selectors may also take the opportunity to take a look at some new faces ahead of the Champions Trophy in 2017.

Jake Ball, who broke into the Test squad this summer, is likely to win a first international cap in the ODI side, while Tymal Mills, almost certainly the quickest bowler in the country, may be named in the T20I squad. With James Taylor, Ben Stokes and Reece Topley all requiring replacing, Woakes, Bairstow, Liam Dawson and, perhaps, Stephen Parry are pushing for a recall.

Neither Anderson, who has not played an ODI since the World Cup, or Broad, who returned to the one-day side in South Africa, are likely to be selected to allow them the best chance of sustaining their outstanding Test form.