When England solemnly promised to do better they were being economical with the truth. What they clearly meant was that they would continue to bat without skill, sense or strategy.
As shots at redemption go, their efforts on the second day of the first Test against Sri Lanka were up there with the soak who signs the pledge one night and is to be heard slurring: "Set 'em up, Joe" the next. Having failed in the United Arab Emirates against spin, England demonstrated that they could perform quite as ineptly in Sri Lanka.
With a sequence of ill-advised, poorly conceived strokes, none more miserable than that devised by their vaunted captain, Andrew Strauss, they were dismissed for 193, conceding a first-innings lead of 125. Had the last four wickets not added 101, Ian Bell the sole (qualified) success among the batsmen with a much-needed half-century, the position would have been direr still.
It was spin what did it in the UAE and it was spin what did it here. For Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman of Pakistan, read Rangana Herath and Suraj Randiv of Sri Lanka. They came without either the reputations or the mysterious qualities of Ajmal but were tellingly effective.
Herath, an orthodox left-arm spinner, deceived England utterly as much as they deceived themselves into thinking they could play him. He won four lbw verdicts and took six wickets in all, as many as he took in the entire series between the sides in England last summer.
Randiv, an off-spinner, took two others and the whole innings crumbled in 46.4 overs. Nothing wrong with the run rate, everything wrong with just about everything else: it was batting recidivism of an extremely high order.
That England are still in the match and might still win it if they can play only a smidgeon better in their second innings – no certainty that – is entirely down to their bowlers. Faced with this mountainous deficit they once more created upheaval in their opponents' top order. Sri Lanka finished the day on 84 for 5, a lead of 209.
Graeme Swann undid both the left-handers in the top order and England put the squeeze on. The pitch is wearing more quickly than it might have done, the hot sun will open cracks in it and there are bowlers' footmarks to consider. England would not want to chase anything above 250 to win, or based on the evidence of yesterday and the Test winter before it, not much more than 80.
There is a tide in the affairs of batsmen when they are bound in shallows and miseries. That point may have been reached with England. This bunch has spent the winter failing and offering reassurances that they would learn from their mistakes.
It was possible, nay it was essential, to forgive their aberration against Ajmal and company despite the enormous discredit of a 3-0 series loss. For the previous 18 months the same men had batted with verve and composure, and their considerable totals allowed England to sweep aside opponents.
There was permissible talk of leaving legacies and a reputation that would travel down the ages. This, children of the future would be told, was the best England side of all. That proposition is falling apart at the seams at present, or rather at the seam as employed by spin bowlers on subcontinental pitches. There will be no legacy if England cannot cut it in these conditions and soon enough, because of it, there will be no world No 1 ranking either.
England were already in a position of slight discomfort when they started their innings yesterday. They had allowed Sri Lanka's lower order a few too many late runs and 16 more came from the first over of the day from Jimmy Anderson. But Anderson took both wickets needed, to finish with 5 for 72, his 12th five-wicket haul in Tests.
In the 16 overs before lunch, England's top three were gone. Alastair Cook was lbw to the new ball, excusable because these things happen when the shine is still on. Runs were coming a little freely for Sri Lanka's captain, Mahela Jayawardene, in the overs after that and Herath was given an early call.
Trott advanced down the pitch to him, played across the line and was sharply stumped by Prasanna Jayawardene, who then inadvertently knocked Trott over as he charged towards the bowler to celebrate. Whatever else it was (and it was plenty) it was not a piece of cricket befitting the World Player of the Year.
In the next over, Strauss chose to sweep a length ball on the stumps. He seemed to have escaped the punishment it deserved when umpire Asad Rauf rejected Sri Lanka's strident appeal. But after an eternity of debate, they asked for the verdict to be reviewed and the replay clearly showed that Strauss was hit on the foot in line with the stumps and that the ball would have gone on to hit.
That brought lunch but no respite. To his first ball after it, Kevin Pietersen played a drive at Chanaka Welegedara with bat away from body. The angles were not covered, he was exposed and duly bowled off the inside edge.
Bell, short of runs and confidence, chose to try to attain both by striking Herath for a straight six and then punching him for four, the first a shot imbued with risk, the second a beauty. But he then played a string of lovely shots, abetted by some poor bowling. For a while as he went about his business it was possible to forget England's woes.
Not for long, unfortunately. Matt Prior was lbw on the back foot as was Samit Patel. Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson all swiped to brief but important effect. It could not, of course, erase the lamentable nature of their predecessors and betters in the order.
Timeline: How the second day unfolded
6.05am: Sri Lanka 308 all out Chanaka Welegedara 19, Mahela Jayawardene 180
James Anderson completes an impressive five-for, taking the final wickets of Welegedara and Jayawardene to close the innings.
6.23am: England 0-1 Alastair Cook 0
Disaster strikes for England as the usually reliable Cook is caught plumb lbw before England even make a run, courtesy of an inswinging Suranga Lakmal delivery.
8.26am: England 40-2, 43-3, 65-4, 72-5 Trott 12, Strauss 26, Pietersen 3, Prior 7
England seem intent on losing this game as the top order fall for a combined total of 48 runs – Rangana Herath taking three wickets.
9.23am: England 122-6 Near miss
England hearts are in mouths as an Ian Bell sweep hits Dinesh Chandimal in the chest before being caught – but fear not, the ball also hit his helmet so it cannot be out
9.55: England 157-9 Ian Bell 52
Sri Lanka take the decisive England wicket as Bell falls having added a stylish 52 to the scoreboard. The England tail wags with some aggression to achieve 193 all out.
11.19am: Sri Lanka 4-1, 8-2, 14-3 Tillakaratne Dilshan 0, Lahiru Thirimanne 5, Mahela Jayawardene 6
England are buoyed by three quick wickets – Broad removing Dilshan and Swann taking two more.
12.04pm: Sri Lanka 41-4 Kumar Sangakkara 14
Having removed the captain, Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara is the important wicket, and the batsman succumbs, edging a Swann delivery to Strauss at slip.
12.58pm: Sri Lanka 84-5 Close of play
A valiant bowling performance sees the tourists head into day three with a slim chance of winning the Test, but Sri Lanka are on top after England's batting.
First Test, Galle International Stadium (second day of five): Sri Lanka are leading England by 209 runs with five second-innings wickets in hand; Sri Lanka won toss
Sri Lanka: First Innings Overnight 289-8
*D P M D Jayawardene c Prior b Anderson 180, 315 balls 3 sixes 22 fours
U W M B C A Welegedara b Anderson 19, 26 balls 0 sixes 4 fours
R A S Lakmal not out 0, 6 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (lb14 nb4) 18
Total (96.3 overs) 318
Fall (cont) 9-307.
Bowling JM Anderson: 20.3-5-72-5 (6-3-10-2; 4-0-15-0; 4-1-18-1; 3-1-13-0; 3.3-0-16-2), SCJ Broad: 21-3-71-1 (4-0-17-1; 3-0-3-0; 2-0-12-0; 2-0-9-0; 3-0-8-0; 7-3-22-0) (4nb), MS Panesar: 23-11-42-0 (5-4-1-0; 3-1-9-0; 5-3-6-0; 2-1-4-0; 3-2-5-0;4-0-16-0; 1-0-1-0), GP Swann: 23-3-92-0 (6-0-18-0; 17-3-74-0), SR Patel: 9-1-27-2 (3-1-8-0; 5-0-18-1; 1-0-1-1)
Progress 300 runs in 90.4 overs.
England: First Innings
*A J Strauss lbw b Herath 26, 40 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
A N Cook lbw b Lakmal 0, 5 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
I J L Trott st H A P W Jayawardene b Herath 12, 24 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
K P Pietersen b Welegedara 3, 18 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
I R Bell b Herath 52, 87 balls 1 sixes 8 fours
†M J Prior lbw b Herath 7, 7 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
S R Patel lbw b Herath 2, 21 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
S C J Broad lbw b Herath 28, 15 balls 1 sixes 5 fours
G P Swann c Dilshan b Randiv 24, 26 balls 0 sixes 6 fours
J M Anderson not out 23, 26 balls 0 sixes 4 fours
M S Panesar lbw b Randiv 13, 11 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
Extras (lb2 w1) 3
Total (46.4 overs) 193
Fall 1-0, 2-40, 3-43, 4-65, 5-72, 6-92, 7-122, 8-157, 9-157.
Bowling UWMBCA Welegedara: 11-2-46-1 (4-1-20-0; 6-1-21-1; 1-0-5-0), RAS Lakmal: 9-2-45-1 (7-2-18-1; 2-0-27-0) (1wd), HMRKB Herath: 19-5-74-6 (one spell), S Randiv: 7.4-0-26-2 (7-0-24-1; 0.4-0-2-1)
Progress 50 runs in 14.1 overs, Lunch: 57-3 in 16 overs (KP Pietersen 3, IR Bell 13), 100 runs in 27.3 overs, Bell: 50 off 78 balls (8 fours, 1 six), 150 runs in 38.1 overs, Tea: 193-10 in 46.4 overs (JM Anderson 23)
Sri Lanka: Second Innings
H D R L Thirimanne b Swann 6, 23 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
T M Dilshan b Broad 0, 2 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
K C Sangakkara c Strauss b Swann 14, 44 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
*D P M D Jayawardene c Anderson b Swann 5, 7 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
T T Samaraweera st Prior b Swann 36, 74 balls 0 sixes 5 fours
L D Chandimal not out 17, 38 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
S Randiv not out 2, 16 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (b1 lb3) 4
Total (for 5, 34 overs) 84
Fall 1-4, 2-8, 3-14, 4-41, 5-72.
To bat †H A P W Jayawardene, H M R K B Herath, R A S Lakmal, U W M B C A Welegedara.
Bowling JM Anderson: 5-0-18-0 (3-0-6-0; 2-0-12-0), SCJ Broad: 5-2-8-1 (one spell), GP Swann: 12-2-28-4 (9-1-19-3; 3-1-9-1), MS Panesar: 7-1-19-0 (one spell), SR Patel: 5-2-7-0 (one spell)
Progress 50 runs in 22.6 overs.
Umpires Asad Rauf and R J Tucker.
Third umpire B N J Oxenford (Australia).
Match referee J Srinath (India).
Facts in figures
253 England's previous best second-innings total at Galle – they will likely need more to win.
5-72 James Anderson's first-innings figures, his 12th Test five-for.
6 England batsmen out lbw – equal to their highest in an innings.
17 Wickets fell, the second most ever in a day in a Test in Sri Lanka.Reuse content