In the end, England had nothing left to give. Their winter's work came to the most abrupt and painful of halts in the clammy confines of the Premadasa Stadium last night when they were defeated in the World Cup quarter-final by 10 wickets.
Sri Lanka, with the advantage of playing at home, hardly erred either with the ball or the bat. Had they been as adept in the field the margin of victory might have been more emphatic, were that possible.
Perhaps it was always too much to expect that England could launch a realistic assault on a title they have never won in 10 times of asking. Their progress through the group stages was never less than stodgy and all their six games went to the wire. Not last night.
Fluency, as it had been throughout the competition, was elusive in any of the disciplines and whatever they said to the contrary they never looked like men with a spring in their step. Injuries had a debilitating effect on the squad but England never seemed quite to know what their best team was. Maybe, the truth was that a best team did not exist.
There was a suggestion that the adversity they had somehow overcome in clawing their way this far might strengthen them for the knockout stages. That turned out to be a forlorn analysis. England won the toss, deemed to be important on the ground where twice as many matches are won batting first as second, and it was all downhill from there.
Long before, Sri Lanka won with 63 balls to spare, having treated England's target of 229 as a stroll in the park, England had run out of gas. This was one time they had nothing to offer, nothing at all. It was not as though they were going through the motions, to a man they were trying but this was a classic example of running on empty and they knew it.
The crushing margin of defeat was ill-deserved because England had done so many grand things early in the winter by winning the Ashes in Australia, but Sri Lanka seem to be peaking at the right time. Their splendid form and the knowledge of the surface and the conditions will make them a handful for New Zealand in the semi-finals on Tuesday.
Upul Tharanga and Tillakeratne Dilshan were as adroit against England's spinners as England's batsmen had been hesitant against Sri Lanka's. Although there was some early turn and a little swing for some of the seamers, they never looked like being parted. Their unbroken stand of 231 was their second in the tournament above 200.
Tharanga, the left hander, scored 102 not out from 122 balls with 12 fours and a six, Dilshan, the right hander 108 not out from 115 with 10 fours and two sixes. None of England's bowlers did badly, none looked like making the remotest incision.
How different it was for England's first wicket pair. Both the openers – yet another new pairing of Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell – were dismissed before the 10th over of the innings and it was a case of damage limitation from there.
The captain looked wretched in his stay of 19 balls, Bell squandered a bright start by chipping carelessly to midwicket (and how many times have we heard that before?)
Jonathan Trott became the tournament's leading run scorer in compiling his fifth half-century in seven innings and his endeavours have left his colleagues standing. Trott was assisted in partnerships of 64 by Ravi Bopara and 91 by Eoin Morgan but England never took the game by the scruff. They were cribbed, cabin'd and confined by Sri Lanka's four-pronged spin attack which knew precisely what it was up to.
Every attempt at acceleration was stifled and when England once more mucked up their batting powerplay, scoring 22 runs in the five overs for the loss of two wickets including Morgan to its sixth ball, their total did well to reach 229 for 6. Morgan was dropped three times, the last time bringing Muttiah Muralitharan to boiling point, and had he been caught at cover point when he was 17 England would never have mustered anything resembling adequacy.
Trott fell for a valiant 86 from 115 balls, trying to hit his first six in one-day internationals but falling short enough to give backward square-leg a conventional catch. This time, the fielder did not the throw the ball to the floor.
There was some notion that England's total would push Sri Lanka all the way. Perhaps if England had possessed their opponent's attack it would have helped. But they were dealing in a currency of which Sri Lanka had intimate knowledge and calculated the exchange rate with immediate and alarming efficiency.
They eased their way to 57 after 10 overs by which time they had been subject to examination by four England bowlers. By the 12th over, Strauss had used six bowlers. It was all to no avail. Tharanga sashayed down the pitch to strike Graeme Swann straight for six to remind the world's top spinner that liberties were not for taking and Dilshan swatted James Tredwell over cover.
Until Sri Lanka closed in on the target, it was never a gallop nor less than a canter. The batsmen's placement was precise, their authority beyond question. England were heavily defeated in their last World Cup quarter-final by Sri Lanka in 1996. That took them by surprise and the ambush last night was no less shocking.
England player ratings
The journey was much more dramatic than the previous four England had made in vain pursuit of World Cup glory. And yet the end, when it came in Colombo yesterday, was every bit as demoralising as those of 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2007. England have contributed significantly to this tournament, for better and for worse in terms of their own peace of mind, but a team that had lost to both Ireland and Bangladesh was never likely to emerge triumphant. Fatigue, with most of their players having spent months abroad this winter, played a part. What they lacked, even more than energy though, was x-factor performers and the hunt for a winning one-day formula must start all over again.
Andrew Strauss 7/10
Played the one-day innings of his life when making 158 against India. But it was hard work for him thereafter and he may now decide, at the age of 34, to concentrate on leading his Ashes-winning Test side by example.
Kevin Pietersen 5/10
The decision to try Pietersen as an opener was a partial success, at best, but injury prevented the jury from delivering a definitive verdict. Rumours of an imminent retirement from one-day international cricket persist.
Jonathan Trott 9/10
What a winter for England's Mr Consistent. A terrific Ashes campaign was one thing but you would have received mighty long odds on him leaving the World Cup as its leading run-scorer.
Ian Bell 6/10
Another tale of what might have been for Bell. Seldom looked in anything other than supreme touch but where were the match-winning innings? May get his wish to open on a regular basis.
Eoin Morgan 6/10
Had to start from cold after replacing Pietersen mid-tournament, so a couple of 50s was a reasonable effort. But this will be a big summer for the Irishman as he tries to fulfil last year's promise.
Paul Collingwood 2/10
Thanks for everything Colly. Having retired from Test cricket, many people are now retiring him from the international stage full stop. Probably time for him to give Durham his experience.
Ravi Bopara 6/10A last minute pick, Bopara made a couple of important batting contributions and took two big wickets in the win over West Indies. Another who needs to deliver as much he promises.
Luke Wright 6/10
For weeks this winter, Wright appeared to be England's specialist sub fielder. Did his bit with the bat against the Windies, though, and needs a spell in the side this summer.
Matt Prior 3/10
A rollercoaster ride to match England's. Late pick for the squad, shoved down the order, pushed back up, then down again. But it was his own fault, really, that he did not make the most of those opening chances.
Michael Yardy 2/10
Yardy's illness puts cricket matters into perspective. Purely from a cricketing point of view, he struggled badly but a successful fight against depression is all that matters for now.
Graeme Swann 8/10
Not quite the eye-catching figures some had hoped for, perhaps, but he did nothing to damage his standing as the spinner any side in the world would want to have on board.
Tim Bresnan 7/10
Started the winter as a member of the supporting cast but ended it as one of England's star performers. An Ashes hero, he became Strauss's best World Cup pace bowler by a big distance.
Stuart Broad 5/10
Must have accidentally kicked a black cat. Injured out of both Ashes series and World Cup, he was an especially big loss on the subcontinent where a four-wicket haul against South Africa had underlined his worth.
James Tredwell 6/10
Like Wright, a Lord Lucan figure until he emerged to take 4 for 48 against West Indies. With England rarely using two spinners, he will soon be out of sight and out of mind once again.
Jimmy Anderson 2/10
How the mighty, and the exhausted, have fallen. The fast bowler who could do no wrong in Australia barely put a ball in the right place in this tournament. Those twin impostors...
Ajmal Shahzad 5/10
Clearly talented but building up a worryingly long injury record. Needs to stay fit, and play a few international matches on the trot, so England can see what he's made of.
Chris Tremlett 3/10
Did more than his bit when given an Ashes chance but could not make a late mark on the World Cup. Future likely to be in Test cricket, rather than limited-overs game.
England won toss; Sri Lanka win by 10 wkts
*A J Strauss b Dilshan 5/19/0/0
I R Bell c Samaraweera b Mathews 25/32/3/0
I J L Trott c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 86/115/2/0
R S Bopara lbw b Muralitharan 31/56/1/0
E J G Morgan c Mathews b Malinga 50/55/4/0
G P Swann lbw b Mendis 0/1/0/0
†M J Prior not out 22/19/2/0
L J Wright not out 1/3/0/0
Extras (lb3 w6) 9
Total (for 6, 50 overs) 229
Fall 1-29, 2-31, 3-95, 4-186, 5-186, 6-212.
Did not bat N W Bracken, S R Clark.
Bowling S L Malinga 10-0-46-1, T M Dilshan 6-1-25-1, A D Mathews 5-0-20-0, H M R K B Herath 10-1-47-0, B A W Mendis 10-0-34-1, M Muralitharan 9-0-54-2.
W U Tharanga not out 102/122/12/1
T M Dilshan not out 108/115/10/2
Extras (b9, lb6, w6) 21
Total (0 wkts, 39.3 overs) 231
Bowling T T Bresnan 8-1-40-0, G P Swann 9-0-61-0, C T Tremlett 7.3-0-38-0, R S Bopara 5-1-22-0, J C Tredwell 6-0-38-0, L J Wright 4-0-17-0.
Umpires B R Doctrove (WI) and S J A Taufel (Aus).
TV Umpire A L Hill (NZ). Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).
Man of the Match T M Dilshan (SL).Reuse content