Honesty pays for rejuvenated Sidebottom

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The Independent Online

To drag themselves back into a series rapidly threatening to head south long before the return to Colombo, England decided to confess their sins. If it was less long dark night of the soul than a 10-minute chinwag over a glass of Coke, its effect was quite as dramatic.

England beat Sri Lanka by 65 runs to level proceedings at 1-1 and if going ahead in the series tomorrow, or winning it next week, remain challenges of an intractable complexion, it was still a stunning reversal of momentum. It was their first one-day win against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka for 25 years and though the number of defeats (seven) was hardly large the margins had been usually enormous. They were lucky it had rained so often.

The victory, after England were reduced to 60 for 4, was outstanding. Sri Lanka had lost only 11 of their previous 50 home matches, and they had been almost disdainful in crushing England in the first match. But the tourists recognised they had to regroup, headed for the bar and ordered the soft drinks.

"We had a laid back 10-minute chat over a cola, just to say what we didn't do well and what we could do better, jogging the memory," said Ryan Sidebottom. "We don't handle criticism very well but as a team you've got to do that. Maybe the batsmen can see what the bowlers can't and vice versa. It's not having a go at players, it's saying how you thought you could have done better, helping each other to improve."

Perhaps it was the only approach possible but it was eminently sensible and professional sports teams do not always grasp such concepts: most of them would bare their bottoms before their souls. It was obvious that England had to learn quickly but it was the sort England needed, demanding a rare combination of speed reading and profound understanding.

Following Owais Shah's phlegmatic 82, Sidebottom was a key figure in Sri Lanka's downfall. He bowled with pace and zip, and has been a constant revelation since his unexpected recall last May six years since his solitary previous Test cap. Even then it was assumed that his swing bowling would be trusted only in certain specific conditions.

But the craft he displayed on Thursday was of a highly skilled tradesman who knew that he had to adapt like a carpenter understanding that different types of wood need different tools and manipulation.

There were slower balls but the speed of the faster ones was surprising. As he stood between overs on the boundary galvanising himself and others he could have been a Biblical preacher. Maybe he should take the confessionals.

And now for a repeat of the trick. The toss will be important if not vital. Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's captain, reckons it offers a 10 per cent advantage. No side winning it in would ever think of doing other than batting first, though four of the 11 day-night games have been won by the team batting second.

But if Paul Collingwood, England's captain, calls wrongly it will not now affect the team as if they had been struck by food poisoning. They have not won this series, but nor are they on the road to losing it.