They needed 257 runs to win, nine runs more than they wanted last Sunday. A late hiccup when they lost three wickets for 23 runs in the final 10 overs made the game closer than it really was, but 17 balls to spare in this type of cricket was still a whipping. Once again England were 30 to 40 runs light, their batting losing crucial momentum as Muthiah Muralitharan choked off the final third of the innings.
When Sri Lanka began their pursuit, it looked a different proposition as Sanath Jayasuriya, their dangerous opener, was bowled for nought by Darren Gough, who began his first over with two wides. However, the dismissal, which should have bolstered the bowlers, appeared to have the opposite effect and England, like the Sri Lankans earlier, made risky pinch hitting redundant with an assortment of bad balls.
Driving cleanly, Atapattu added 138 runs with his partner, the more agricultural Romesh Kaluwitharana, who happily hacked and smeared his way to 68 before Robert Croft induced a mishit.
England's gain quickly turned sour, though, as Aravinda de Silva countered with a blistering cameo that included three fours in as many balls off Peter Martin, who conceded 60 runs from his 10 overs.
England's fielding, too, suffered under pressure and Gough put down Atapattu when, on 97, he miscued a slog off Croft. In hindsight it was an important miss as Sri Lanka still needed 46 runs and would have had two new batsmen at the crease.
Winning the toss on a pitch used in the previous game, England, having selected Michael Atherton in place of Adam Hollioake, decided to bat. Atherton, not selected for England's previous 14 one-day matches, began well and his first two scoring shots both found the boundary. Apart from one mishit, when he broke his bat - a legacy perhaps of the alleged extra hardness of the white ball - it was a fine knock.
Criticised in the past, England's former captain has long argued that his reputation as a batsman too sluggish for the frenetic pace of one- day cricket is ill-deserved. Yesterday he proved it, and his fifty off 50 balls was the quickest of the match.
By comparison it took Knight, his opening partner, 15 balls more to reach the same milestone. But while there was nothing wrong with that, Knight's dawdling later in the innings - possibly as a result of England's previous collapses, or perhaps because he was nearing a fourth one-day hundred - cost England important runs.
Knight was not the only batsman who struggled to keep up the initial run rate as Arjuna Ranatunga shuffled his bowlers like a card sharp short of a few aces. It was a clever tactic and the stacatto changes prevented England's batsmen from settling. The Sri Lankan captain, having learnt from his mistakes last Sunday, also utilised more spin, and his seam bowlers accounted for just 14 of the 50 overs.
But, if five tweakers were used, one stood apart. Muralitharan is a prodigious spinner of a ball on any surface. As a result of England's storming start - they were 83 for 0 after 15 overs - Muralitharan was pressed into action in the 14th over, but was immediately taken off. Apparently the ball was still too hard and he asked to be held back until it had softened.
When he did return, this time from the Pavilion End, both slope and fortune were with him and he had Michael Atherton held by his captain at mid-wicket for 64, after the batsman toe-ended a pull shot. Not long after, Stewart followed caught off his gloves sweeping for 18, the England captain not waiting for the umpire's decision.
Graeme Hick, after a couple of handsome drives, fell to the leg-spinner Upul Chandana, the ball just clipping off-stump, a fact that appeared to cause some confusion after Hick stood his ground, presumably in the belief that the keeper had attempted to stump him.
At that stage England were 191 for 3 in the 39th over and set for a total around 280. Muralitharan had other ideas and, with the ball now soft enough to squeeze his fingers around, he mesmerised England's batsmen in a tightly spun web of intrigue to finish with 5 for 34, the best-ever bowling figures in a one-day international at Lord's.
At one stage he took 3 for 0 in five balls, including the now inert Knight, caught and bowled for 94. While it is perhaps unfair to be too hard on a player who has scored 94, Knight's last 44 runs took him 71 balls, as compared to the 55 balls it took to score 64 runs at the other end.
More appropriately perhaps, the blame should be levelled at England's selectors for their confused thinking. More specialist bowlers equal a longer tail. If they do not take wickets, you need more runs. It is a balancing act England must get right before next summer's World Cup.
Henry Blofeld, county reports, page 19
England won toss
N V Knight c and b Muralitharan 94
177 min, 136 balls, 4 fours
M A Atherton c Ranatunga b Muralitharan 64
101 min, 73 balls, 7 fours
*A J Stewart c Kaluwitharana
b Muralitharan 18
31 min, 24 balls, 1 four
G A Hick b Chandana 14
25 min, 16 balls, 1 four
A D Brown b Muralitharan 18
25 min, 18 balls, 2 fours
N Hussain lbw b Muralitharan 0
2 min, 2 balls
R D B Croft c Kaluwitharana b Perera 17
21 min, 17 balls, 1 four
I D Austin not out 11
23 min, 12 balls, 1 four
D Gough b Perera 0
1 min, 1 ball
P J Martin not out 1
4 min, 1 ball
Extras (b4,lb5,w10) 19
Total (for 8, 209min, 50 overs) 256
Fall: 1-132 (Atherton), 2-170 (Stewart), 3-191 (Hick), 4-218 (Knight), 5-218 (Hussain), 6-223 (Brown), 7-246 (Croft), 8-246 (Gough).
Did not bat: A D Mullally.
Bowling: Wickramasinghe 5-0-29-0 (one spell), Perera 9-0-44-2 (w4) (4- 0-17-0 2-0-11-0 2-0-6-0 1-0-10-2), Dharmasena 9-0-47-0 (w1) (3-0-16-0 3-0-13-0 2-0-11-0 1-0-7-0), Muralitharan 10-0-34-5 (1-0-5-0 4-0-10-1 3- 0-15-1 2-0-4-3), de Silva 2-0-10-0 (one spell), Jayasuriya 8-0-45-0 (4- 0-24-0 1-0-3-0 3-0-18-0) Chandana 7-0-3 8-1 (w2) (4-0-22-0 3-0-16-1).
Progress: 50: 36 min, 53 balls. 100: 72 min, 107 balls. 150: 117 min, 175 balls. 200: 169 min, 249 balls. 250: 206 min, 296 balls. 15 overs score: 83-0. Knight's 50: 83 mins, 65 balls, 3 fours. Atherton's 50: 76 mins, 50 balls, 6 fours.
S T Jayasuriya b Gough 0
R S Kaluwitharana c Hick b Croft 68
M S Atapattu not out 132
P A de Silva c Brown b Gough 34
*A Ranatunga c Knight b Martin 1
U D U Chandana c Knight b Croft 2
H P Tillakaratne not out 10
Extras (lb7 w6) 13
Total (for 5, 47.1 overs) 260
Fall: 1-2 (Jayasuriya), 2-140 (Kaluwitharana), 3-210 (de Silva), 4-224 (Ranatunga), 5-233 (Chandana).
Did not bat: H D P K Dharmasena, S A Perera, G P Wickramasinghe, M Muralitharan.
Umpires: D J Constant and D R Shepherd. TV replay umpire: J C Balderstone.
Match referee: Ahmed Ebrahim.