"There was no finger-pointing, it was a good healthy discussion, constructive. This was a match we should have won and didn't," said Alec Stewart, who was rested from the match which Sri Lanka won by 11 runs and did so largely by the use of 38 overs of spin bowling. Since the match had been reduced by heavy rain to 44 overs a side, this represented 86 per cent of the innings total, which is almost certainly a record in a one-day international and sound evidence that spinning can be utterly tedious.
The romantics would probably have it otherwise but by the end there must have been many in the ground who were seriously thinking of starting a club for the revival of just-above-military medium seam. During the less enchanting stages of the contest, and these were in danger of overload, it was possible to think that one-day internationals would never have been invented if their designers had imagined them to be like this.
It was difficult to blame the players for the nature of the contest. Perhaps they might have jollied things along a little more but they were shackled by the pitch. It was grassless, it turned outrageously, it did not bounce, it was hopeless. One-day cricket is often castigated for allowing the batsmen too many easy runs so that close, high scoring matches are artificially engineered. But this was worse because, while it might have rewarded high batting skills, as Aravinda de Silva demonstrated, it also required a high degree of good fortune.
Not all matches can be the stuff of dreams but the two remaining at Sydney in the Carlton & United Series deserve a better surface. The result made no difference to the outcome of the qualifying table of the triangular tournament.
England and Australia are already sure of meeting in the three-match finals series next week after a sequence of poor and unimaginative Sri Lankan performances. But England had kept insisting that there was still much to play for, that this was still an international match and that, if they changed their team, it was to have a closer look at other men playing for places in the World Cup. If the subsequent loss did not demand outright rejection, nor was it a convincing letter of application.
England made five changes from the side which had so handsomely and energetically beaten Sri Lanka in Perth last week. Alec Stewart, the captain, Alan Mullally and Robert Croft were missing their first games of the competition. Thus, opportunities were provided for Mark Alleyne, Vince Wells, Ashley Giles, John Crawley and, for the first time after 107 days on tour and 13 international matches, Ben Hollioake.
Perhaps England could be accused of misreading the pitch, but they were not alone. The linguist does not exist who could have read this. Nobody thought it was an outrageous decision when they won the toss and asked Sri Lanka to bat. They were probably hedging their bets.
Sri Lanka, themselves weakened with the absence through injury of two of their most important players, Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya, were somewhat consoled by the presence of De Silva. It was only his second match of the series and, while he did not make light of the conditions, he was not ensnared by them either.
De Silva's 52 came at a run a ball and, if he has played innings of far superior virtuosity, this showed him for the batsman he is. He tucked off his legs, found the gaps, kept the board going. Romesh Kaluwitharana also scored a half century, his second of the tournament, but it was not of the same calibre.
A target of 182 was what England might have expected to pursue. They started boldly enough with a first-wicket partnership of 53 for the first wicket. It was neither rapid nor faultless, but there was an air of professional calm about it. When Wells was out, Nick Knight proceeded to play himself out of form.
There were occasions when he was clearly saying to himself that this would not do and he attempted to break out. But it did not last. Knight is a cavalier, and he was made to look like a roundhead.
Sri Lanka gave Chaminda Vaas four overs at the start of the innings and two more later, but otherwise used only spin of various hues, beginning with De Silva and embracing Tilan Samaraweera, playing his first match of the competition, the fifth of his career - and taking 3 for 24 and the man of the match award.
A measure of England's difficulties was their progress between 48 and 73. It was entirely in singles. That might have been acceptable had there been more of them. But as Stewart suggested later - after the team meeting - there were too many scoreless balls.
Knight was fifth out at 199, having made 58, his first half century of the tournament in 109 balls, a rate as untypical as his lean run. The rest perished trying to hit boundaries and confirmed only how difficult this task was.
If it was an unattractive match, it was also sad for the younger Hollioake. Having waited so long for his chance, he shared the new ball with Darren Gough, but the pitch suited neither his pace nor direction. He then batted at nine when it was too late and was run out. He deserved to make his feelings clear at the team meeting.
England won toss
A W W Gunawardena st Crawley b Giles 24
73 min, 45 balls, 1 four
R S Kaluwitharana c Gough b Alleyne 54
108 min, 87 balls, 5 fours
W P U C J Vaas run out 14
26 min, 14 balls
P A De Silva not out 52
84 min, 52 balls, 3 fours, 1 six
*A Ranatunga c Hussain b Gough 0
6 min, 4 balls
D P M Jayawardena c B Hollioake
b Alleyne 2
10 min, 7 balls
M S Atapattu lbw b Alleyne 4
13 min, 15 balls
U D U Chandana c Giles b Wells 0
5 min, 7 balls
H P Tillakaratne not out 13
35 min, 35 balls, 1 four
Extras (lb4, w12, nb2) 18
Total (for 7, 185 min, 44 overs) 181
Fall: 1-71 (Gunawardena), 2-99 (Vaas), 3-109 (Kaluwitharana), 4-111 (Ranatunga), 5-122 (Jayawardena), 6-133 (Atapattu), 7-134 (Chandana).
Did not bat: G P Wickramasinghe, T T Samaraweera.
Bowling: Gough 9-2-35-1 (nb1, w2) (5-2-15-0, 2-0-6-1, 2-0-14-0); B Hollioake 4-0-25-0 (nb1, w2) (one spell); Ealham 9-2-30-0 (8-2-24-0, 1-0-6-0); Giles 5-0-31-1 (w8); Alleyne 9-1-27-3; Wells 8-1-29-1 (one spell each).
Progress: Rain reduced match to 44 overs a side. Play began at 4.15pm. 50: 54 min, 78 balls. 100: 102 min, 140 balls. 150: 166 min, 237 balls.
Kaluwitharana's 50: 105 min, 84 balls, 4 fours. De Silva's 50: 84 min, 52 balls, 3 fours, 1 six.
N V Knight b Chandana 58
137 min, 109 balls, 2 fours
V J Wells b Samaraweera 26
60 min, 50 balls, 2 fours
G A Hick b Samaraweera 0
3 min, 2 balls
N Hussain st Kaluwitharana b Tillakaratne 9
28 min, 24 balls
J P Crawley c Ranatunga b Samaraweera 13
37 min, 21 balls, 1 four
M A Ealham c sub b Jayawardena 0
11 min, 3 balls
M W Alleyne c Jayawardena b Chandana 18
24 min, 20 balls, 1 four
A J Hollioake st Kaluwitharana b Chandana 13
33 min, 17 balls, 1 four
B C Hollioake run out 4
7 min, 6 balls
A F Giles not out 10
11 min, 10 balls
D Gough not out 1
4 min, 3 balls
Extras (b1, lb5, w11, nb1) 18
Total (for 9, 182 min, 44 overs) 170
Fall: 1-53 (Wells), 2-53 (Hick), 3-74 (Hussain), 4-118 (Crawley), 5-119 (Knight), 6-122 (Ealham), 7-150 (Alleyne), 8-155 (B Hollioake), 9-162 (A Hollioake).
Bowling: Vaas 6-0-24-0 (4-0-17-0, 2-0-7-0); De Silva 9-0-25-0 (nb1,w5) (one spell); Samaraweera 9-0-34-3 (6-0-17-2, 1-0-5-1, 2-0-12-0); Chandana 9-0-35-3 (w2) (4-0-15-0, 1-0-4-0, 2-0-5-1, 1-0-5-1, 1-0-6-1); Tillakaratne 5-0-22-1 (w4), Jayawardena 6-0-24-1 (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 51 min, 83 balls. 100: 114 min, 174 balls. 150: 161 min, 239 balls.
Knight's 50: 119 min, 93 balls, 2 fours.
SRI LANKA WON BY 11 RUNS
Umpires: A J McQuillan and S J Taufel. TV replay umpire: J I Cameron.
Man of the match: T T Samaraweera.
Compiled by Jo KingReuse content