Sri Lanka 231 & 332 England 229 & 190: Muralitharan wizardry makes mockery of Ashes ambitions

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The Independent Online

The scenes at Trent Bridge yesterday were far removed from those nine months ago, when Ashley Giles clipped Shane Warne through mid-wicket for two to secure a remarkable three-wicket victory over Australia. At the end of that unforgettable series, and after regaining the Ashes, England held ambitions of becoming the best side in the world.

But after falling to a ignominious 134-run defeat by a Muttiah Muralitharan-charged Sri Lanka, England now look as far away from reaching this goal as they did during the bleak 18-year period when Australia held the "little urn".

There is no disgrace attached to being bowled out for 190 in the final innings of a Test match by a bowler as brilliant as Muralitharan, whose figures of 8 for 70 were the best ever at Trent Bridge, but the sight of England just drawing a series they were expected to win comfortably is worrying.

The haul took Muralitharan's match tally to 11 for 132, and gave him the 16th 10-wicket haul of his remarkable Test career. At one point, after taking England's first seven wickets, the little genius looked destined to become the third bowler in the history of the game to take all 10 wickets in a Test innings. But Muralitharan's hopes of joining Jim Laker and Anil Kumble disappeared when Chamara Kapugedera threw the stumps down from square leg to run out Matthew Hoggard with a brilliant piece of fielding.

Though striking, yesterday's figures were not even his best against England - he took 9 for 65 against them at The Oval in 1998.

Even before the news of Andrew Flintoff's injury England had plenty to worry about and the result means they have now failed to win each of the three series that have followed their Ashes success. The Test series defeat to Pakistan before Christmas and the draw in India in March were understandable. Winning on the subcontinent is a huge challenge and England left India, following their wonderful win in Bombay, full of confidence.

But that self-belief has slowly been eroded by the helicopter wrist and the subtle variations of Muralitharan, who took 24 wickets in the three-Test series. Drawing a home series against Sri Lanka in May and June, in conditions that suit your style of play and are generally alien to your opponents, is extremely disappointing.

England will blame their form on injuries to Michael Vaughan, Stephen Harmison, Ashley Giles and Jones, and to some extent they have a point. But the players England brought in, and the team they selected, should have been capable of defeating a young and inexperienced touring side.

At full strength England are capable of competing with the best in the world, but the chances of the team that won here in 2005 ever playing together again are now looking very remote.

Alastair Cook, Liam Plunkett, Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood all have potential but, in light of what we have seen during this series, they are still some way away from being able to compete with the Aussies.

The England fans yesterday were beginning to believe their side had a chance of an unexpected victory at the mid point of the day. Plunkett dismissed Kapugedera in the opening over and Panesar mopped up the tail to take his first five-wicket haul in Test cricket. Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss then set about chasing down a record score, and with the scoreboard on 84 for 0 the body language of the Sri Lankans showed concern.

But the whole mood of the day changed when Murali ripped a doosra through the defence of Trescothick. Suddenly 325 looked a long way off against a player who can turn the ball sharply both ways. Fielders began to appear around the bat and it came as little surprise when Alastair Cook was given out leg before as he tentatively pushed forward.

Andrew Strauss looked in fine touch as he completed his first 50 of the series and when he edged an off-break to first slip one feared the worst. When facing a bowler of Muralitharan's ability the first 20 minutes of an innings are vital. If you can survive them, and become accustomed to the spin, you have a chance.

But when wickets start to fall and panic sets in batting against him is an absolute nightmare, and this can be seen by the fact that England's openers and the last pair were the only ones to reach double figures.

With three front-line batsmen out of the way it all came down to Kevin Pietersen and Flintoff, England's "big guns". But both perished in the 46th over when Murali had them caught at short-leg searching for balls that were never there. From then it became just a question of when Sri Lanka were going to win.

Scoreboard from Trent Bridge

Sri Lanka won toss; fourth day of five

Sri Lanka - First Innings 231.

England - First Innings 229.

Sri Lanka - Second Innings

(Overnight: 286 for 7)

C K Kapugedera c Cook Plunkett 50

158 min, 132 balls, 7 fours

M F Maharoof b Panesar 6

31 min, 29 balls

W P U C J Vaas not out 34

138 min, 100 balls, 4 fours

S L Malinga b Panesar 22

31 min, 16 balls, 3 fours

M Muralitharan c Strauss b Panesar 2

7 min, 4 balls

Extras (b1 lb3 w1 nb5) 10

Total (473 min, 113.1 overs) 322

Fall (cont): 8-287 (Kapugedera) 9-320 (Malinga) 10-322 (Muralitharan).

Bowling: Hoggard 22-4-71-2 (5-1-18-1, 6-3-10-0, 1-0-6-0, 3-0-8-1, 4-0-9-0, 3-0-20-0); Lewis 20-6-54-0 (2-0-7-0, 1-0-6-0, 7-3-15-0. 6-2-16-0, 4-1-10-0); Flintoff 13-1-38-1 (nb2) (2-0-7-0, 1-0-5-0, 5-0-15-0, 4-1-10-1, 1-0-1-0); Panesar 37.1-13-78-5 (3-2-2-0, 6-4-16-1, 10-1-25-1, 10-2-26-1, 7-4-4-0, 8.1-4-9-2); Plunkett 19-2-65-2 (nb3 w1) (2-0-16-0, 3-0-18-1, 2-1-2-0, 7-1-18-0, 12-1-29-1); Pietersen 2-0-12-0 (one spell).

Progress: Fourth day: 300: 449 min, 108 overs. Innings closed: 11.41am.

Sangakkara's 50: 164 min, 108 balls, 7 fours. Kapugedera's 50: 146 min, 117 balls, 7 fours.

England - Second Innings

M E Trescothick b Muralitharan 31

105 min, 98 balls, 3 fours

A J Strauss c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 55

149 min, 115 balls, 6 fours

A N Cook lbw b Muralitharan 5

29 min, 23 balls

K P Pietersen c Dilshan b Muralitharan 6

32 min, 17 balls

P D Collingwood c Dilshan b Muralitharan (TV replay) 9

37 min, 39 balls

*A Flintoff c Dilshan b Muralitharan 0

3 min, 4 balls

ÝG O Jones b Muralitharan 6

32 min, 27 balls

L E Plunkett not out 26

67 min, 47 balls, 3 fours

M J Hoggard run out (Kapugedera) 4

4 min, 4 balls, 1 four

J Lewis lbw b Muralitharan 7

15 min, 16 balls, 1 four

M S Panesar lbw b Jayasuriya 22

28 min, 28 balls, 3 fours, 1 six

Extras (b13 lb1 w1 nb4) 19

Total (255 min, 68.5 overs) 190

Fall: 1-84 (Trescothick) 2-104 (Cook) 3-111 (Strauss) 4-120 (Pietersen) 5-120 (Flintoff) 6-125 (Collingwood) 7-132 (Jones) 8-136 (Hoggard) 9-153 (Lewis) 10-190 (Panesar).

Bowling: Vaas 9-1-28-0 (nb1) (6-1-16-0, 3-0-12-0); Malinga 7-0-24-0 (nb1 w1) (4-0-14-0, 3-0-10-0); Muralitharan 30-10-70-8 (nb2) (one spell); Jayasuriya 22.5-3-54-1 (5-0-13-0, 17-3-40-0, 0.5-0-1-1).

Progress: Fourth day: Lunch: 49-0 (Trescothick 19, Strauss 24) 17 overs. 50: 70 min, 17.4 overs. 100: 125 min, 33 overs. Tea: 125-6 (Jones 2, Plunkett 0) 50 overs. 150: 224 min, 60.5 overs. Innings closed: 5.04pm.

Strauss's 50: 124 min, 88 balls, 6 fours.

Sri Lanka win by 134 runs

Series drawn 1-1

Man of the match: M Muralitharan.

Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and R E Koertzen (SA).

TV replay umpire: P J Hartley.

Match referee: A G Hurst.