A brave captain is sometimes a foolhardy one.
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Maybe he is a bit of both. Alastair Cook, second game in as England one-day captain, asked one of the most potent batting sides around to do what they do best yesterday. "We like chasing," he said at the toss.
Fifty overs later his team needed 310 to win the second one-day international against Sri Lanka, a higher total than they had ever achieved in a successful chase. Some 46 overs after that, England liked chasing so much that they were 240 all out and beaten by 69 runs.
Mahela Jayawardene scored his 12th and highest one-day hundred for Sri Lanka, pristine in all but one respect. He should have been caught at slip on seven, the chance went begging and there was never likely to be another.
Although England during their reply saw the odd chink of light where victory lay, the window was soon shut again. Nobody could match Jayawardene, or Kumar Sangakkara come to that. It was an old failing of England's batsmen in one-day cricket (as was their fallibility against spin bowling) and one that, for once, Eoin Morgan, could not fully compensate.
While Morgan was there, blazing imperiously away, anything was possible and when he was out nothing was. He had, as too often before, slightly too much on his plate.
The target was higher than it might have been after Sri Lanka added 97 in their last 10 overs including 59 from the batting powerplay. As Cook said: "We didn't bat very well. I think it was a gettable score but nobody went and got a hundred like Mahela did and that won the game for them. But they scored more runs in the powerplay than we would have liked."
Cook and Craig Kieswetter started the chase brightly enough but both gave catches in the deep which might have been avoided. Kevin Pietersen looked dangerous, Jonathan Trott did not.
Questions are bound to be asked again about the rate at which Trott scores his runs and although the dilemma was clear he erred so far on the side of caution that he had to stay there and see it through, or be accused of leaving his colleagues in the lurch. Unfortunately, it was the latter. It was not entirely his fault that his defences were pierced by an accurate swinging yorker from Suranga Lakmal.
Cook might have done the simple thing and batted. The sun was not quite out but nor was it in, the pitch was bare and looked full of runs. The wise heads will tell you that there is nothing like runs on the board: you've got 'em and the opposition still have to get 'em.
The new captain made himself a hostage to fortune immediately. If Sri Lanka made bucketloads, as seemed probable, he might look not so much foolhardy as plain silly. On the other hand a triumphant pursuit would have him writ large as a true leader.
For long enough, England were chasing leather. They took two early wickets, both created by adept fielding and inadvisable Sri Lankan scrambling for singles. Stuart Broad ran out Tillakaratne Dilshan with a direct, diving throw from mid-on, and the lesson having been not taught sufficiently well, Jimmy Anderson did likewise to Dinesh Chandimal. That was the last error that Sri Lanka made for a while and they were spared punishment for the gravest a little before. Jayawardene, pressed into service as an opener on this tour, attempted to cut a ball from Tim Bresnan and was put down by Graeme Swann, mistiming his jump at slip.
Jayawardene went on to add another 137 in which there was hardly a blemish. It was a delectable innings, reminiscent of the century he made in the World Cup final, full of deft touches. He was not to be rushed, always seeming to have abundant time to wait for the ball and play it late.
His cutting, as it had been in Mumbai that night in April, combined elegance and precision. It was a masterclass and his long-time middle order partner, Sangakkara, lent him precious support. Jayawardene was the class act on this particular day but together they assembled Sri Lanka's highest one-day third-wicket partnership in England.
It was not as horrifying for Cook as when another set of Sri Lankans walloped 324 in 37.3 overs on this ground five years ago but there was plenty on show for him to ponder the wisdom of his decision.
When Sangakkara departed for 69 there were still 12 overs left and the tourists did not squander them. Jayawardene continued on his stealthy but jaunty way; Angelo Mathews took a more direct approach to the task at hand. By the time Jayawardene gave Kieswetter his second stumping, done in the flight, most of the damage was done.
The pursuit of more than 300 in a limited overs match usually demands that the pursuers more or less keep up the required rate. Much less, and doubts start to creep in. It was good to see Cook go about his business with such verve but there was just a hint – not a forerunner of what is to come it is to be hoped for England's sake – that the aggression was forced, manufactured in some way. He was out vainly trying to clear the rope against Suraj Randiv's spin.
Kieswetter, too, forced the pace. But soon enough, after Pietersen was wonderfully caught by a running, diving Lasith Malinga at long on, it was left to Morgan. He reverse-swept his fourth ball for four with utter disdain and continued in that manner. Ian Bell, no slogger he, concentrated on giving him the strike.
It might have worked too, but Morgan chanced his arm once too often against Randiv and saw the ball drift past him. He had made 52 from 40 balls and with him went England. Bell could not do it by himself. It is 1-1 in the series and England know they need more runs. They really might have to try batting first.Reuse content