Cook admits failings that leave sour taste in mouth of touring fans

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England should probably consider themselves grateful that it is the season of goodwill to all men. Quite what the chap who at Galle Stadium yesterday erected the banner saying: "England, hang your heads in shame," would have concocted at any other time of year hardly bears thinking about. The hanging suggestion might not have been restricted to heads in shame.

It was quite a shock to the system to see this but it demonstrates that fans care. They may be willing to tolerate anaemic batting, bowling and fielding but not all at once.

As the team left the ground after the third day, having been bowled out for 81 in reply to 499 for 8 declared, they might initially have assumed the waiting supporters were hunting for autographs. They probably sussed that they were to be spared the chore when the booing began. Those outstretched hands were not holding pens and pieces of paper.

Discontent at England's performance was inevitable and if the players were surprised at the strength of it they should remember that many of these fans trekked round Australia last winter watching most of them being similarly pulverised. It certainly begins to redeem Andrew Flintoff's performance as captain of that bedraggled lot.

The tourists were better yesterday and lost only one wicket before a heavy storm ended play with only one session (almost) completed. At 102 for 1, England had scored 183 runs altogether. This meant that Mahela Jayawardene who made 213 not out was unlikely to beat them on his own as Inzamam-ul-Haq did to New Zealand at Lahore in May 2002. Inzy made 329, New Zealand were bowled out for 246 and 73, a total of 319.

It was clear that while England came out with renewed determination yesterday they were struggling to come to terms with their own previous ineptness. They could hardly been so poor if they had all been nursing whopping hangovers after the team Christmas party.

"Momentum in cricket is quite a strange thing," mused Alastair Cook, who reached a gritty 50 without ever quite seeming in nick. "The way the Sri Lankans bowled was fantastic. We couldn't respond to it and once you lose a couple of wickets it's such a hard thing to stop. It snowballs."

He was chastened by the fans' attitude but recognised their annoyance. "You don't need motivating when you see banners up and you get booed getting on to the bus. It's tough. They're entitled. They're passionate cricket fans who've come a long way and like to see us doing well. I can understand how they felt."