Much more of this and Alastair Cook's critics will be seeking to clarify their view. What they meant when they said he was unfit to be captain of England's one-day team was that he was a leader of rare genius capable of inspiring performances of the highest calibre.
Under slate-grey London skies last night, the home side produced a dazzlingly sunny exhibition. Sri Lanka, who had swept England aside in the quarter-finals of the World Cup two months ago and had won last weekend's Twenty20 match at a canter, were clinically dismantled.
England, put into bat because of the prevailing conditions, made 229 for eight from 32 overs after the first one-day international was trimmed by heavy rain. The tourists replied with 121 all out, a defeat by 110 runs when the Duckworth-Lewis adjusted target was taken in.
It was not quite a perfect match for the new captain. Cook faced only three balls for his five runs, a single and a smartly clipped four being followed by a meat-and-drink leg glance that was too fine.
But England, marshalled by the recalled Craig Kieswetter, then showed positive intent as they had promised and crucially managed to keep their nerve when it threatened to go wrong. The initial dash, barely disturbed by the long break for rain, was eventually stopped by the rapid loss of wickets before a highly profitable late burst from the late middle order.
When England came out to defend their total, Cook assembled his charges in the regulation huddle and whatever he said had them in fits of laughter. It must also have been strategically astute, because by the fifth over Sri Lanka were 15 for four with their entire quartet of celebrated batsmen out, Sanath Jayasuriya for the last time. Three of those wickets and four in all fell to Jimmy Anderson, who also took three catches, one a bobby dazzler, and thus banished painful memories of the World Cup which he ended in state of utter exhaustion.
There was no way back from that and the match proceeded along lines familiar after such collapses. Sri Lanka knew all hope was gone, England sustained the pressure, everyone politely went through the necessary motions. The only slightly worrying note was the continuing threat of more rain before Sri Lanka had faced the 20 overs essential to constitute a one-day match.
"You never get a near-perfect performance," said Cook, refusing to be carried away. "But we played really well. I thought we handled the rain break fantastically and then when we took so many wickets early it was a long way back from there. We tried to break it down into a twenty-over match after the stoppage, took the batting power play early and did it brilliantly."
A simple if valid assessment was that the match reversed the positions of the sides in the World Cup. Then Sri Lanka played at home in familiar weather on a familiar surface in front of a familiar crowd and a tired England found it all too much. Last night, England worked out what they had to do much more quickly while Sri Lanka never came to terms with what was expected.
For Kieswetter, it was an ideal return to the one-day colours because he did precisely what the selectors desired of him. He went after the bowling and he hit it with easy authority down the ground. By the time his intended leg- side slog ended up in the hands of short third man, England were 142 for four and scoring at seven runs an over.
Kieswetter shared partnerships of 47, 56 and 33 for the second, third and fourth wickets and he hit four fours and, as importantly, two sixes. He will not succeed every time with this high-risk game but his power could be a key part of England's limited-overs batting if he has refined the primitive methods that were once his hallmark in the side.
There were rapid contributions from Jonathan Trott, who was beaten by a swinging ball of full length, Kevin Pietersen, who was deadly businesslike until he clubbed a long-hop to mid-wicket, and most pertinently from Eoin Morgan, who was perfectly delightful.
When Morgan and Ian Bell were out within six balls, there was the chance of the innings slipping into terminal decline. Sri Lanka, however, bowled badly and England responded skilfully. Tom Bresnan, brought straight back into the side after injury, seized on a series of full tosses that were intended to be yorkers and 31 runs came from two overs.
It was all downhill for Sri Lanka thereafter. They lost captain Tillakaratne Dilshan, who had passed a late fitness test, to the third ball, flicked to deep square leg. In the second over Jayasuriya brought his illustrious career to a close after 445 matches when the fierce square cut that brought him so many runs was held at point by Morgan.
In Anderson's third over, the dismissal of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara sealed the result. Jayawardene played across one that came back at him and Sangakkara's checked drive was held by the bowler in his follow through. Six overs later, Anderson flung himself to his right to hold on to a searing pull shot from Angelo Mathews to give the debutant Jade Dernbach his first one-day international wicket.
Anderson finished with four for 18 and three catches. To contrast this Anderson with the Anderson who finished the World Cup looking like a weary ghost was to go from the ridiculous to the sublime. As indeed had England.Reuse content