England demonstrated with chilling inefficiency yesterday that there is much more wrong with their one-day cricket than there is right. Actually, it is difficult to think that anything is right, unless they handed in the teamsheet on time.
A loss to a confident Sri Lankan side might be neither here nor there in the Great Caribbean Plan, the strategy aimed at lifting the 2007 World Cup, but the manner of defeat with only nine months left until the tournament begins was more pertinent than the result. Despite the absence of important players, England cannot dispel the notion that they are casting around in search of answers. Maybe they are not asking the right questions.
Little they did yesterday, in losing the first of five matches, suggests they have the wherewithal to come back and win the NatWest Series. Nor can they reason that they are playing one of the world's sleeker one-day outfits. Sri Lanka are sixth in the ICC league table, one place ahead of England, with the positions recently having been exchanged, so it could be said that two mediocre sides are confronting each other.
The evidence was pretty clear that Sri Lanka's progress is more advanced. The margin was 20 runs, a landslide in one-day terms. England's bowling was a mishmash of indiscipline that included 22 wides and 42 extras in all, a record number. Their ground fielding lacked the necessary component of concentration and their batting lacked cohesion. It was poor professional cricket by any standards. Sri Lanka, by comparison, bowled two wides.
Still, perhaps the chief difference ultimately was that Sri Lanka had a batsman who made a century in Upul Tharanga and England did not. The home side's joint top-scorers were the estab-lished Marcus Trescothick and the rookie Jamie Dalrymple, who each made 67. Dalrymple's busy innings could not be faulted (it was 66 for 4 when he came in) but England's chances of winning, already slim, disappeared when Trescothick fell.
When they returned from the most recent World Cup in 2003, their campaign having been subsumed by the embarrassing political shenanigans over Zimbabwe, there was righteous talk that it should not happen again.
This has turned out to be total claptrap. Plans were being laid, it was said, to ensure there would be a properly competitive squad in place by 2007. England would build a team which would be honed to perfection by the time they reached the Caribbean. Three successive disastrous World Cup campaigns was enough. Enough, maybe, but not so plentiful that the trio will not become a quartet.
When they are given the opportunity - and they are not slow to seize it - the selectors love to mention their attachment to continuity. Of course, injuries and loss of form can affect this policy, but the figures for the past three years, when the Grand Caribbean Plan was launched, tell something of a story.
In the summer of 2003, six players were picked for the first time, none of whom were in yesterday's team. In the 2004 summer, three players were capped for the first time, two of whom made it yesterday, and in the summer of 2005 two more were chosen, who were not there yesterday. Four more have already been tried this summer.
Perhaps the selectors have recognised when they have made mistakes and not been afraid to try somebody else. But the art of selection is to judge a player and then back that judgement. Perhaps they like to think they are still doing it, but it would not come as a total surprise to stumble across a secret video of meetings in which darts were being thrown at names. After all England have won nine of their past 30 one-day matches.
Dalrymple batted with great aplomb, some style and no little grit on his home ground, but nobody believed a fortnight ago that he had a chance of batting in England's middle order in the next World Cup. Nor will he be.
There is still time, just, for it to come right, though if this exhibition is to be used as a yardstick, it will not happen in the next fortnight.
England were behind for most of the match. Sri Lanka, having been inserted, started at rapid pace. Tharanga was reminiscent of a young Sanath Jayasuriya, his opening partner who departed early. He carved through the off side at will and with force. England assisted in this by bowling short and wide. At one point, Andrew Strauss had a cordon of cover points, grouped close together like a chorus line. The Tiller Girls at Lord's without the high kicking.
At least they stuck to the task, and a wicket which was slower than it initially seemed also yielded fewer runs than had looked likely. It did not help that Geraint Jones missed a regulation stumping off Dalrymple when Tharanga was only 59. Time is not running out for Jones because he appears to have been given a limitless amount of it, but it was a telling moment. Tharanga thereafter remembered that his job was to stay to the end. Only Paul Collingwood and debutant Tim Bresnan observed the rudiments of bowling.
The early loss of Strauss, res-uming his partnership with Trescothick, boded ill for England. So it proved, and when Kevin Pietersen went to an outstanding catch by Mahela Jayawardene, a bad day got worse. The Caribbean here England come.
England won toss
W U Tharanga c Dalrymple b Mahmood 120
(Top edged attempted pull high to midwicket; 220 min, 156 balls, 14 fours)
S T Jayasuriya c Jones b Harmison 11
(Edged attempted cut shot to keeper; 26 min, 22 balls, 2 fours)
*D P M D Jayawardene c Strauss b Collingwood 24
(Lofted miscued drive off slower ball to mid-off; 71 min, 36 balls, 1 six)
ÝK C Sangakkara run out (Collingwood/Mahmood) 15
(Sent back at non-striker's end; 27 min, 18 balls, 2 fours)
T M Dilshan c Collingwood b Harmison 13
(Fine tumbling catch from forcing shot to backward point; 27 min, 15 balls)
R P Arnold c Jones b Collingwood 8
(Thin edge to keeper attempting late cut; 19 min, 15 balls)
C K Kapugedera c Pietersen b Plunkett 1
(Fine diving catch from skied pull to deep square-leg; 6 min, 6 balls)
W P U J C Vaas c Strauss b Harmison 10
(Spliced attempted pull shot high to midwicket; 22 min, 15 balls)
L S Malinga b Bresnan 3
(Missed huge attempted drive through off-side; 9 min, 8 balls)
C R D Fernando not out 10
(13 min, 9 balls, 1 four)
M Muralitharan not out 0
(7 min, 4 balls)
Extras (b2 lb13 w23 nb4) 42
Total (for 9, 228 min, 50 overs) 257
Fall: 1-25 (Jayasuriya), 2-124 (Jayawardene), 3-153 (Sangakkara), 4-188 (Dilshan), 5-204 (Arnold), 6-207 (Kapugedera), 7-227 (Vaas), 8-236 (Malinga), 9-248 (Thuranga).
Bowling: Harmison 10-0-52-3 (w9) (5-0-25-1 1-0-13-1 2-0-7-0 2-0-7-1), Plunkett 7-0-32-1 (w6) (4-0-18-0 2-0-9-1 1-0-5-0), Bresnan 9-1-44-1 (nb1 w5) (3-1-14-0 3-0-15-0 1-0-4-0 2-0-11-1), Mahmood 9-0-57-1 (nb3 w2) (2-0-22-0 5-0-23-0 2-0-12-1), Collingwood 10-1-29-2 (4-1-10-1 6-0-19-1), Dalrymple 5-0-28-0 (w1) (3-0-13-0 2-0-15-0).
Tharanga: 50: 70 min, 44 balls, 10 fours. 100: 173 min, 128 balls, 13 fours.
M E Trescothick b Dilshan 67
(Bowled behind legs attempting sweep shot; 134 min, 99 balls, 6 fours, 1 six)
*A J Strauss c Sangakkara b Fernando 12
(Bottom edge to keeper off ball which kept slightly low; 33 min, 16 balls, 1 four)
I R Bell b Fernando 7
(Played on to stumps off inside edge; 10 min, 9 balls, 1 four)
K P Pietersen c Jayawardene b Malinga 10
(Chipped to mid-wicket, excellent overhead catch; 24 min, 14 balls, 1 four)
P D Collingwood lbw b Fernando 0
(Trapped on crease failing to play forward; 6 min, 7 balls)
J W M Dalrymple b Muralitharan 67
(Attempted slog sweep but missed off-spinner; 111 min, 87 balls, 5 fours)
ÝG O Jones c Kapugedera b Jayasuriya 19
(Launched long hop to deep midwicket; 24 min, 23 balls)
T T Bresnan b Malinga 16
(Beaten by fast, full inswinger; 22 min, 21 balls, 1 four)
S I Mahmood b Malinga 8
(Wild yahoo but comprehensively beaten by slower ball; 12 min, 7 balls)
L E Plunkett not out 14
(17 min, 14 balls, 1 four)
S J Harmison not out 5
(10 min, 5 balls)
Extras (7lb 3w 2nb) 12
Total (for 9, 207 min, 50 overs) 237
Fall: 1-31 (Strauss), 2-44 (Bell), 3-65 (Pietersen), 4-66 (Collingwood), 5-138 (Trescothick), 6-172 (Jones), 7-208 (Bresnan), 8-214 (Dalrymple), 9-220 (Mahmood).
Bowling: Vaas 8-0-37-0 (4-0-26-0 2-0-6-0 2-0-5-0), Malinga 9-2-26-3 (w1) (5-1-11-0 1-1-0-1 3-0-15-2), Fernando 8-0-51-3 (nb2 w2) (5-0-26-3 1-0-7-0 1-0-9-0 1-0-9-0), Muralitharan 10-0-47-1 (6-0-23-0 2-0-14-0 2-0-10-1), Dilshan 6-0-23-1 (2-0-9-0 4-0-14-1), Jayasuriya 9-0-46-1 (3-0-20-0 3-0-9-0 3-0-17-1).
Trescothick: 50: 106 min, 78 balls, 6 fours; Dalrymple: 50: 84 min, 71 balls, 4 fours.
Sri Lanka won by 20 runs.
Man of the Match: W U Tharanga.
Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) & N J Llong (Eng) (SA). Third Umpire: I J Gould.Reuse content