England 261-7 Sri Lanka 265-2: Sri Lanka win by eight wickets

England's pampered bowlers in need of a few harsh words
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The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss looked a very angry young man on Saturday evening as he tried to explain another woeful bowling display from his beleaguered side. England's captain had every right to be enraged after the emphatic and humiliating eight-wicket defeat that put Sri Lanka in an unassailable 3-0 lead in the NatWest series.

After watching his batsmen battle to 261 for 7 Strauss would have believed that England had a great chance to get back into the series. But the vision disappeared within minutes of Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga taking guard.

In the second over of Sri Lanka's reply Jayasuriya cut a wide long hop from Liam Plunkett over third man for six, and in the next eight overs Stephen Harmison and Sajid Mahmood sent down similar fare. From an England perspective it was dreadfully disappointing, but the tourists tucked in with glee.

The early loss of Jayasuriya, who ran himself out seeking a quick single, did not slow the rate as Mahela Jayawardene played one of his finest one-day innings. Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's impressive captain, has had a huge influence on the fortune of his side in England. The likeable 29-year-old is only a stand-in captain himself, but he has led by example on the field and off. And, after securing one of Sri Lanka's greatest triumphs outside Asia, he will deservedly go home a hero.

But where do England go from here? Duncan Fletcher, the coach, tried to deflect attention away from his bowlers by suggesting that the batsmen did not score enough runs. The top order has failed to deliver - England have hit a solitary one-day hundred in the last year, and that was against Ireland - but it is hard to believe that one of Strauss, Marcus Trescothick, Kevin Pietersen or Paul Collingwood would not have capitalised on the dross that was sent down in Durham.

The cosseted approach used in the England set-up may ensure a nice team spirit, but will it benefit the players in the future? Cricket at the élite level is tough and ruthless and to succeed you need to be resilient. The best players will accept the odd harsh word when they have messed up and often use criticism as motivation. Those who react poorly to an old-fashioned rollicking have not got what it takes. It is therefore hoped that either Strauss or Fletcher do emit a few home truths before Wednesday's fourth game at Old Trafford because what took place on Saturday was unacceptable.

England's bowling will lead to calls for change, but who should they select? Leicestershire's Stuart Broad, a highly rated young quick, has a chance of playing against Pakistan in September, as does Gloucestershire's Jonathan Lewis. Darren Gough's name will be mentioned, too.

Despite these setbacks England should persist with Plunkett and Mahmood. It may not look like it at the moment but they do have what it takes, and it is up to England's coaching staff to get the best out of them.