It is difficult to believe England's five-week tour of Sri Lanka could have ended on a more humiliating note than this, but it could have. The third heaviest defeat by an England side in their 816-Test history could and probably should have sealed a 3-0 loss for Michael Vaughan's side in this three-match series. And that would have been really embarrassing.
Even so, England's cricketers have very little to feel proud of as they travel back to the United Kingdom tonight. A heavy defeat and two hard-fought draws will not seem too bad a performance on 6 January when the squads for February's tour of the West Indies are announced but the shortcomings of Vaughan's side have been brutally exposed during these past four days.
On spinning pitches in Galle and Kandy, courageous rear-guard batting and the reliability of Ashley Giles covered up a glaring lack of flair among England's bowlers. But here at the Sinhalese Sports Club, on a pitch where only the helicopter wrists of Muttiah Muralitharan were able to spin the ball, England's batsmen failed to make the most of winning an important toss. This resulted in England's bowlers being put under pressure and we quickly became aware of the limitations of those who were selected.
The England captain offered no excuses for his side's performance. "Sri Lanka were excellent in this game," he said. "We failed to make the most of our opportunities and you cannot afford to do this on pitches like that. It allowed Sri Lanka to put us under a lot of pressure. We have been on the ropes for three games and today they gave us the final knock-out blow."
Each member of Vaughan's side gave everything he had but there is no better way of knocking the fight out of a team than making them spend two days baking in the Sri Lankan sun. This was a huge contributor to England's pathetic batting display on the fourth day but it is only one of the reasons for yesterday's capitulation.
Playing three Test matches in 20 days in this heat is too much to demand from any normal sportsman, but this is something Muralitharan is not. He is a genius and it was the "M factor" which ultimately proved to be the difference between the two teams.
During their successful tour here in 2001, England's batsmen all but conquered Murali. Their methods of smothering the spinner may not have been pretty but they worked. In three Test matches he claimed 14 victims at the the cost of 30 runs per wicket.
For this series, though, Murali went back to the nets to develop his doosra - a ball from an off-spinner that turns away from a right-handed batsman. The legitimacy of this delivery has caused plenty of controversy but the effect has been startling. It is the only addition to his armoury since England's last visit to this tropical island but it has allowed him to take 26 wickets in this series at an average of 13.5.
"Our strength is our batting," Vaughan said. "But in Murali we have come up against a world-class performer who has constantly put us under pressure. Even Graham Thorpe has struggled with his new delivery. It is one thing seeing it but it is another thing playing it."
Before ripping out England's middle order with his doosra, Muralitharan finished off England's 182-over stint in the field by slogging Giles for 20 runs in his 65th and final over. This onslaught took the total number of runs conceded by the Warwickshire spinner to 190: the third highest by an England bowler after Ian Botham (217) and Ian Peebles (204).
England's quest to score the 363 runs they required to make Sri Lanka bat again got off to the worst possible start when Marcus Trescothick wafted at a ball he should have left alone and was caught in the gully.
While Trescothick's soft dismissal could be put down to tiredness, Vaughan's came through a fine piece of bowling. Dilhara Fernando, a raw and aggressive fast bowler, had peppered the England captain with short balls to set him up for a killer punch - a slower ball - which he chipped to mid-off.
Lunch prevented any further mishaps but it was not long before Muralitharan began causing carnage. Nasser Hussain became the spinner's 100th victim at this venue when he was given out caught behind. Television replays were inconclusive and the former England captain did not want to go but he had to when the umpire Steve Bucknor raised his finger.
Mark Butcher and Thorpe blunted the Sri Lankans for more than an hour until Thorpe inadvisably came down the wicket to Murali and was stumped by Kumar Sangakkara. This was the fifth time in this series that Murali had dismissed the Surrey left-hander and nothing has given him greater pleasure than winning this private battle.
Gareth Batty fell to the same combination next ball when he dragged his foot out of the crease playing a forward defensive. Andrew Flintoff just kept out the hat-trick ball but the Sri Lankans did not have to wait long for wickets number six and seven.
Sanath Jayasuriya claimed both Butcher and Chris Read with his left-arm spin in consecutive overs and England had lost four wickets for two runs in seven overs. Flintoff and Giles ensured England's total reached three figures with some dogged defence and the odd lusty blow but both fell to Fernando.
It was fitting that Muralitharan should take the winning wicket with a vicious off-break and England's batsmen will be grateful they do not have to face him again for quite some time.
ENGLAND'S 10 HEAVIEST TEST DEFEATS
Lost to Australia by an innings and 332 runs at Brisbane in 1946-47
Lost to the West Indies by an innings and 226 runs at Lord's in 1973
Lost to Sri Lanka by an innings and 215 runs in Colombo in 2003-04
Lost to Australia by an innings and 200 runs at Melbourne in 1936-37
Lost to the West Indies by an innings and 180 runs at Edgbaston in 1984
Lost to Australia by an innings and 180 runs at Trent Bridge in 1989
Lost to the West Indies by an innings and 161 runs at Kingston in 1934-35
Lost to the West Indies by an innings and 156 runs at Old Trafford in 1988
Lost to Australia by an innings and 154 runs at Brisbane in 1954-55
Lost to Australia by an innings and 149 runs at The Oval in 1948
Fourth day of five; England won toss
ENGLAND - First Innings 265 (A Flintoff 77, M E Trescothick 70).
SRI LANKA - First innings (Overnight: 563 for 5)
T T Samaraweera run out (Read-Batty) 142
D M P D Jayawardene c sub (P D Collingwood) b Flintoff 134
T M Dilshan b Giles 83
H P Tillakaratne b Giles 12
U D U Chandana c Vaughan b Kirtley 76
W P U J C Vaas run out (Giles TV replay) 9
M Muralitharan not out 21
C R D Fernando not out 1
Extras (b7 lb16 w5 nb6) 34
Total (for 8 dec, 182 overs, 740 min) 628
Fall: 1-71 (Sangakkara) 2-138 (Jayasuriya) 3-400 (Jayawardene) 4-428 (Samaraweera) 5-456 (Tillakaratne) 6-582 (Dilshan) 7-605 (Vaas) 8-606 (Chandana).
Did not bat: M S Atapattu.
Bowling: Kirtley 31-4-131-2 (nb3) (3-0-14-0, 7-3-27-1, 2-0-5-0, 2-0-9-0, 4-1-13-0, 4-0-11-0, 1-0-4-0, 3-0-15-0, 5-0-33-1); Anderson 24-5-85-0 (3-0-20-0, 4-2-5-0, 3-1-9-0, 5-2-8-0, 2-0-19-0, 7-0-24-0); Flintoff 18-0-47-2 (nb3) (5-0-13-0, 3-0-8-1, 4-0-12-0, 5-0-12-0, 1-0-2-1); Giles 65-16-190-2 (2-0-15-0, 1-0-4-0, 9-2-25-0, 5-2-5-0, 6-2-14-0, 14-6-34-0, 18-4-41-1, 5-0-21-0, 5-0-31-1); Batty 41-4-137-0 (5-1-16-0, 10-1-29-0, 4-1-3-0, 10-0-38-0, 11-1-36-0, 1-0-15-0); Vaughan 1-0-5-0, Trescothick 2-0-10-0 (w5)(one spell each).
Progress: Third day: 300: 404 min, 97.3 overs. Lunch: 334-2 (Samaraweera 98, Jayawardene 99) 114 overs. 350: 465 min, 116.5 overs. 400: 520 min, 128.1 overs. Tea: 445-4 (Dilshan 22, Tillakaratne 8) 143 overs. 450: 580 min, 145.1 overs. 500: 645 min, 160.1 overs. 550: 685 min, 169.5 overs. Close: 563-5 (Dilshan 72, Chandana 54) 172 overs. Fourth day: 600: 724 min, 179 overs. Declaration: 11.17am.
Jayasuriya's 50: 84 min, 44 balls, 9 fours, 1 six.
Samaraweera's 50: 199 min, 172 balls, 4 fours. 100: 403 min, 345 balls, 7 fours.
Jayawardene's 50: 139 min, 100 balls, 5 fours. 100: 286 min, 206 balls, 9 fours, 1 six.
Dilshan's 50: 132 min, 90 balls, 2 fours.
Chandana's 50: 92 min, 71 balls, 6 fours, 1 six.
ENGLAND - Second Innings
M E Trescothick c sub (M G Vandort) b Vaas 0
M P Vaughan c Jayasuriya b Fernando 14
M A Butcher b Jayasuriya 37
N Hussain c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 11
G P Thorpe st Sangakkara b Muralitharan 19
G J Batty st Sangakkara b Muralitharan (TV replay) 0
A Flintoff c Sangakkara b Fernando 30
C M W Read lbw b Jayasuriya 0
A F Giles b Fernando 13
R J Kirtley b Muralitharan 12
J M Anderson not out 1
Extras (b2 lb8 nb1) 11
Total (68 overs, 248 min) 148
Fall: 1-0 (Trescothick) 2-22 (Vaughan) 3-44 (Hussain) 4-82 (Thorpe) 5-82 (Batty) 6-84 (Butcher) 7-84 (Read) 8-124 (Giles) 9-137 (Flintoff) 10-148 (Kirtley).
Bowling: Vaas 7-2-25-1 (4-2-12-1, 3-0-13-0); Fernando 12-4-27-3 (nb1) (5-1-15-1, 3-2-3-0, 4-1-9-2); Chandana 13-7-18-0 (4-3-1-0, 5-2-11-0, 2-2-0-0, 2-0-6-0); Muralitharan 27-9-63-4 (19-8-32-3, 2-0-14-0, 6-1-17-1); Jayasuriya 9-6-5-2 (8-5-5-2, 1-1-0-0).
Progress: Fourth day: Lunch: 39-2 (Butcher 16, Hussain 7) 15 overs. 50: 82 min, 20.4 overs. Tea: 93-7 (Flintoff 2, Giles 6) 51 overs. 100: 187 min, 52.5 overs. Innings closed: 4.39pm.
Man of the match: T T Samaraweera.
Man of the series: M Muralitharan.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and S A Bucknor (WI).
TV Replay Umpire: T H Wijewardene.
Match Referee: C H Lloyd.Reuse content