England 321-7 Sri Lanka 324-2: Sri Lanka win by 8 wickets

England spirit dissolved by whitewash
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The Independent Online

Well, thank goodness that is all over. No, not the limp yet life-consuming performance of the England football team in Germany, but the even more inept showing of the country's cricketers in the NatWest series against Sri Lanka. Saturday's eight-wicket defeat here, which sealed a 5-0 whitewash for the tourists, was the most humiliating of the lot.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga, who scored 152 and 109 respectively, were magnificent as Sri Lanka chased down England's highly commendable total of 321 for 7, but how on earth can an international side concede 324 runs in just 37.3 overs? Stephen Harmison, yes, the bowler who took 7 for 12 against the West Indies two years ago, conceded 97 runs in 10 overs. These are most expensive bowling figures by an England bowler in one-day cricket, yet, in comparison to Tim Bresnan and Kabir Ali, who haemorrhaged 101 runs in eight overs, Harmison was frugal.

So what can we deduce from the events of the past fortnight? Sri Lanka's confidence has steepled since winning the third Test at Trent Bridge. Mahela Jayawardene, the captain, has been a source of inspiration and his bowlers have bowled with intelligence. Sri Lanka's fielding has been athletic and vibrant and, under cloudless skies, their batsmen have fearlessly gone for their shots. In a form of the game where batsmen win games England's willow wielders have not been dominant and only one player - Marcus Trescothick - scored a hundred. Yet it is England's bowling, and in particular their fast bowlers, that will be causing the selectors the greatest distress. In the five-match series England's fast bowlers have conceded over 1,000 runs at a rate of almost seven runs an over. The bowling of Harmison, Liam Plunkett, Sajid Mahmood, Tim Bresnan and Kabir Ali has been awful, but I do not believe it is because they are all not good enough. As bowlers Bresnan and Ali are limited and, unless they improve significantly, both may have played their last games for England.

Injuries to Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones, and the view that Matthew Hoggard is not a one-day bowler, has reduced the pool the selectors pick from to a puddle, but Harmison, Plunkett and Mahmood should be retained. Despite their showing England are not that bad. The cumulative effect of injury and defeat has drained their confidence, and each time they have dared to stick their heads out of the hole they are in a big mallet has knocked them back down.

Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, said: "It doesn't reflect our ability. It would be very interesting if Sri Lanka were missing eight of their players and we had our eight injured players back. What then would the result have been?

"It took us three or four years to build that Ashes winning side. It takes time with young players and we have a lot of young players."

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