Cricket: England in crisis: Sri Lanka torment suffering tourists: Stewart unable to turn the tide of defeat as Lord's adds to pressure on Gooch with attack on players' appearance

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Sri Lanka 250-5; England 170

Sri Lanka win on faster scoring rate

THE nightmare goes on, and with a vengeance. Even in the 10 weeks trekking from defeat to defeat in India, England never played as badly as they did in losing to Sri Lanka here yesterday. This time, there were no mitigating circumstances, no illnesses or injuries, no loaded pitch. Sri Lanka, 10 overs either side of the interval apart, did not even play well.

Long into his dotage, Alec Stewart will remember his day in charge and shudder. In the field he dropped a catch and one of his bowlers blew a gasket, with the bat he scored five and followed it up with what appeared a ridiculous and unbecoming attempt to persuade the umpires that Colombo's steam-bath humidity was really the rain which had threatened to earn England an undeserved escape.

While he congratulated his opposing captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, with commendable speed and warmth, it was not a good day for the Surrey runner in the captaincy stakes and with Mike Gatting's miserable form continuing, the only contender to advance was Michael Atherton by virtue of limiting his involvement to radio commentary.

Chris Lewis bowled well in patches before he threw a wobbler, and John Emburey was tidy until Hashan Tillakaratne launched the game's key innings with a dozen off his last over. Otherwise, Stewart admitted with a touch of understatement: 'We didn't bowl well.'

The batsmen were even worse, with only the Graeme Hick-Neil Fairbrother partnership rising above mediocrity. Adding two dropped catches in an ordinary fielding display and it was easy to see why, with the current debate about what is suitable for television, Sky ended its tour coverage in India.

There was little hint of the horrors to come when the game began. England, having rejected the chance to wear peach-coloured 'whites' made of a material more suitable for a chilly Durham afternoon than sultry tropical nights, at least looked a cricket team, unlike the blue-trousered Sri Lankans. But it was soon apparent that this was an illusion as, after taking two early wickets, England lost control.

This coincided with the introduction of Phillip DeFreitas, who has hardly bowled well all tour, and after going for 23 in his second and third overs has a tour return of 569 for 6. He did have the misfortune of seeing Stewart drop Asanka Gurusinha off his first ball, a difficult leg-side catch, but he should not have been bowling that line in the first place.

He enabled Chandika Hathurusinghe and Aravinda de Silva to pull Sri Lanka back into the game, de Silva doing so literally as two long hops went over midwicket for four and six. They were followed by a trio of left-handers who, after encountering only Vinod Kambli in India, thoroughly confused the bowlers, who bowled 21 extra deliveries as they again finished three overs short.

That they did was a blessing as, Ranatunga having been well caught by Stewart, Sanath Jayasuriya joined Tillakaratne in a stunning exhibition of aggressive batting and running that added 70 in 35 balls and transformed a moderate total into a fair one.

Under the assault England became flustered, no more so than Lewis after a Robin Smith misfield cost two runs. He stormed off, only to return when he realised he had one ball left to bowl, which he proceeded by throwing it into the ground and followed by doing the same to his cap. Unlike the ball, that did not bounce back and stayed on the turf long enough for the 20,000 crowd to jeer when he picked it up.

The explosion was out of character, which may help Lewis to escape the pounds 500 fine meted out to Phil Tufnell for similar behaviour earlier in the tour. It was Emburey, not Stewart, who had a quiet word with Lewis, but the captain did react well to defuse the situation when Malcolm was denied a strong caught-behind appeal in the next over.

England needed a good start, but with Sri Lanka's openers bowling straight and finding movement off the pitch they were 9 for 2 in the sixth over, at which point Hick was dropped at slip. He and Fairbrother had got things moving when, with light rain falling, he was dismissed five balls short of the 20 overs required for a result. Gatting emerged as reluctantly as if he had left an uneaten sandwich and had not reached the crease when the umpires came off.

Although the rain was soon negligible, it was 40 minutes before the restart, with Stewart spending much of them in the middle pointing out that a match could not be restarted in 'rain'. The air is always damp, but it was hardly Manchester in April and after the intervention of the match referee, Cammie Smith, common sense prevailed.

Gatting was bowled pushing forward and when Fairbrother followed sweeping, it was all over bar some panic slogging before Paul Jarvis's straight hitting showed how weak the second-line bowlers were.

England A, Sport in Short, page 39

(Photograph omitted)