Ottis Gibson was appointed as England's fast bowling coach yesterday. If this was a fitting reward for the splendid results he has achieved during the one-day tour of Sri Lanka it was also unusually swift work by the England and Wales Cricket Board.
The new England managing director, Hugh Morris, was clearly anxious not to let Gibson slip from the ECB's clutches as other coaches have before. It was known that Gibson had applied for the role as coach to the West Indies.
Gibson helped to achieve a turnaround in England's fortunes in the past fortnight that bordered on the sensational. After the first match of the series which the tourists lost by 119 runs it was clear that they were bowling the wrong length at the wrong pace in the wrong country.
Yet, three days later, Gibson had worked with the England attack sufficiently well to change everything. The variations and sophisticated changes of pace by the seam bowlers were the chief reasons for England's unprecedented 3-2 series victory.
It might have been 4-1 had the batsmen done their bit in the final match on Saturday. The bowlers were again bang on the button as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 211 in 48.1 overs. Ryan Sidebottom, a continuing revelation, led the way but it was as efficient a collective effort as any managed by England in recent one-day times.
The total should have been well within England's grasp, but their batsmen were in turn outmanoeuvred by some skilful bowling on another slow pitch by Dilhara Fernando. Player after player fell victim to his cunning slower balls, Ian Bell spooning one to mid-on for the second match in a row, Paul Collingwood leg before playing across his front pad for the fourth time in the series. Just when it seemed Kevin Pietersen might perform one of his rescue acts he stepped across his stumps and was bowled behind his legs, bizarre even by Pietersen's unconventional standards.
It was a procession that showed why England are still some way off being a world force. None of the batsman took responsibility in a 104-run defeat. With the series already safely won it was difficult to be too judgmental.
England were fresh and vibrant and had oodles of confidence in their ability to change things. It may have something to do with the fearlessness of youth. The teams England have chosen against India at home in the late part of the summer and in Sri Lanka are the youngest to represent the country in one-day cricket since it started 36 years ago.
Gibson is a wise choice as coach and he clearly has the support of the players. Not only is he a level-four coach, but he was also voted the Professional Cricketers' Association player of the year two weeks ago after taking 80 Championship wickets for Durham, including all 10 in an innings against Hampshire.
At 38 he was still fit and enthusiastic enough to play for another season but the England job persuaded him to retire. "I'm delighted," he said. "I've thoroughly enjoyed my time working with the team and feel I'm well equipped to take up the position as fast bowling coach."
One bowler whom Gibson will not be helping to coach in the next few months is Andrew Flintoff. The fast bowling all-rounder has had a fourth operation on his left ankle and seems certain to miss the rest of the winter's action.
The initial signs are said to be extremely optimistic after surgery carried out in the Netherlands. But England are determined that Flintoff will be allowed all the rest and recuperation he needs.
Sri Lanka won toss
M D K Perera c Mustard b Sidebottom......... 30
S T Jayasuriya c Pietersen b Anderson......... 26
†K C Sangakkara b Shah......... 26
*D P M D Jayawardene c Broad b Sidebottom......... 0
L P C Silva c Anderson b Broad......... 73
T M Dilshan run out ......... 9
J Mubarak c Bopara b Panesar......... 6
K S Lokuarachchi lbw b Bopara......... 0
W P U J C Vaas b Broad......... 15
C R D Fernando b Broad......... 12
S L Malinga not out......... 0
Extras (b4, w9, nb1 )......... 14
Total (48.1 overs)......... 211
Fall: 1-45, 2-74, 3-74, 4-108, 5-131, 6-158, 7-159, 8-193, 9-210.
Bowling: Anderson 8-1-48-1; Sidebottom 10-2-41-2; Broad 9.1-0-36-3; Panesar 10-0-31-1; Shah 3-0-18-1; Bopara 8-1-33-1.
A N Cook c Sangakkara b Fernando......... 28
†P Mustard c Sangakkara b Vaas......... 1
I R Bell c Malinga b Fernando......... 11
K P Pietersen b Vaas......... 28
*P D Collingwood lbw b Fernando......... 2
O A Shah c Lokuarachchi b Fernando......... 4
R S Bopara not out......... 16
S C J Broad c Jayasuriya b Fernando......... 1
R J Sidebottom b Fernando......... 0
J M Anderson c Sangakkara b Malinga......... 2
M S Panesar c Sangakkara b Malinga......... 3
Extras (b1, lb4, w3)......... 8
Total (29.1 overs)......... 104
Fall: 1-3, 2-32, 3-56, 4-72, 5-76, 6-78, 7-82, 8-82, 9-87.
Bowling: Vaas 10-0-36-2; Malinga 6.1-1-24-2; Fernando 8-0-27-6; Lokuarachchi 5-0-12-0.
Umpires: A de Silva (S Lanka), R Koertzen (SA).
Man of the match Fernando.
Man of the series Sidebottom.
England win series 3-2.