The onus may be on batsmen to win one-day games of cricket but bowlers, as England proved during Saturday's 20-run defeat to Sri Lanka in the first NatWest series match, can lose them.
When Andrew Strauss positioned himself at second slip after winning the toss on a hard, grassy Lord's pitch, he would have envisaged the ball coming his way in the early overs of the match. And, indeed, the England captain was kept on his toes, but sadly it was not down to his bowlers finding the outside edge, but as a result of them struggling to pitch the ball on the piece of turf prepared for the game.
The regulations in one-day cricket make it almost impossible for a team to complete 50 overs without bowling a handful of wides, but the indiscipline shown by England's fast bowlers, as they conceded a record number of extras, was unacceptable.
The most culpable member of the attack was Stephen Harmison, who sent down eight wides in 10 wayward overs. Harmison has bowled several of the most hostile spells ever seen from an England bowler. His demolition of the West Indies in 2004, when he took 7 for 12, was quite rightly compared to displays from Curtly Ambrose and Glenn McGrath, two of the finest fast bowlers to have graced the game. Neither of these "greats" would ever have bowled balls that went straight at second slip, yet this is just what Harmison did when his captain needed him to be on the spot.
At times it was hard not to feel sorry for Strauss, leading England for the first time in a one-day international on home soil. As a young man he would have dreamt about leading England out of the Lord's Pavilion, but the fantasy quickly turned in to a nightmare as Harmison, Liam Plunkett, Tim Bresnan and Sajid Mahmood showed the pin-point accuracy of an aerosol can.
Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, will continue to defend his young bowlers in public, but even he must have been exasperated by what he witnessed. Even the best have the occasional bad day but these are supposed to be international bowlers and they should be capable of pitching the ball consistently on a good length.
At the halfway stage of the Sri Lanka innings a total in excess of 300 appeared probable. But improved bowling, particularly from Paul Collingwood, and disappointing batting left the tourists with 257 to defend. The star of the Sri Lankan innings was Upul Tharanga, who completed his third one-day hundred. Tharanga struggled to deal with the swing of Matthew Hoggard during the recent Tests but here he casually collected runs from the bad balls.
Chasing 258 against Sri Lanka on a dry pitch that offered assistance to slower bowlers was always going to be difficult and England's defeat would have been even more comprehensive but for a composed 67 from Jamie Dalrymple. Marcus Trescothick continued his run of fine form by scoring 67 too, but they were the only two England batsmen to reach 20.
Sri Lanka, by contrast, conceded only three wides. Dilhara Fernando bowled as England hoped Harmison would and claimed three wickets, but Lasith Malinga, with 3 for 26, was the pick of the tourists' bowlers. The pair bowled with aggression and control.
It was not solely the loss that caused England supporters to leave Lord's feeling disheartened - it was the quality of the performance. England's bowling and batting will improve but the most deflating aspect of their cricket was the fielding. England have a young side but in comparison to Sri Lanka they looked cumbersome and apathetic. Several run-out opportunities were missed and the quality of throwing back to the wicketkeeper was low.
"If we continue to play the way we have been doing this summer, we will not retain the Ashes and we will not win the World Cup," was the honest appraisal of the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, of England's plight. "When you concede 23 wides you are not going to win a game of cricket, and I am sure Duncan [Fletcher] and the management team will seek to address that."
England have the chance to rectify the defeat tomorrow when they play Sri Lanka at the Oval. The temptation to change the team will be strong but it should be resisted as it would be wrong to judge these 11 players on one dodgy performance.
Each England defeat increases the pressure to rush Michael Vaughan back into the side, but Fletcher insists that the selectors will only pick their captain when he feels he is fit enough to play. "We are constantly in touch with Michael," said Fletcher. "I will phone him before the game to have a chat with him, as I did before Saturday's match. But it is up to him to decide whether or not he is ready to play."
Scoreboard from Lord's
England won toss
W U Tharanga c Dalrymple b Mahmood 120
220 min, 156 balls, 14 fours
S T Jayasuriya c Jones b Harmison 11
26 min, 22 balls, 2 fours
*D P M D Jayawardene c Strauss b Collingwood 24
71 min, 36 balls, 1 six
ÝK C Sangakkara run out 15
27 min, 18 balls, 2 fours
T M Dilshan c Collingwood b Harmison 13
27 min, 15 balls
R P Arnold c Jones b Collingwood 8
19 min, 15 balls
C K Kapugedera c Pietersen b Plunkett 1
6 min, 6 balls
W P U J C Vaas c Strauss b Harmison 10
22 min, 15 balls)
L S Malinga b Bresnan 3
9 min, 8 balls)
C R D Fernando not out 10
13 min, 9 balls, 1 four
M Muralitharan not out 0
7 min, 4 balls
Extras (b2 lb13 w23 nb4) 42
Total (for 9, 228 min, 50 overs) 257
Fall: 1-25 (Jayasuriya) 2-124 (Jayawardene) 3-153 (Sangakkara) 4-188 (Dilshan) 5-204 (Arnold) 6-207 (Kapugedera) 7-227 (Vaas) 8-236 (Malinga) 9-248 (Thuranga).
Bowling: Harmison 10-0-52-3 (w9) (5-0-25-1, 1-0-13-1, 2-0-7-0, 2-0-7-1); Plunkett 7-0-32-1 (w6) (4-0-18-0, 2-0-9-1, 1-0-5-0); Bresnan 9-1-44-1 (nb1 w5) (3-1-14-0, 3-0-15-0, 1-0-4-0, 2-0-11-1); Mahmood 9-0-57-1 (nb3 w2) (2-0-22-0, 5-0-23-0, 2-0-12-1); Collingwood 10-1-29-2 (4-1-10-1, 6-0-19-1); Dalrymple 5-0-28-0 (w1) (3-0-13-0, 2-0-15-0).
Tharanga's 50: 70 min, 44 balls, 10 fours. 100: 173 min, 128 balls, 13 fours.
M E Trescothick b Dilshan 67
134 min, 99 balls, 6 fours, 1 six
*A J Strauss c Sangakkara b Fernando 12
33 min, 16 balls, 1 four
I R Bell b Fernando 7
10 min, 9 balls, 1 four
K P Pietersen c Jayawardene b Malinga 10
24 min, 14 balls, 1 four
P D Collingwood lbw b Fernando 0
6 min, 7 balls
J W M Dalrymple b Muralitharan 67
111 min, 87 balls, 5 fours
ÝG O Jones c Kapugedera b Jayasuriya 19
24 min, 23 balls
T T Bresnan b Malinga 16
22 min, 21 balls, 1 four
S I Mahmood b Malinga 8
12 min, 7 balls
L E Plunkett not out 14
17 min, 14 balls, 1 four
S J Harmison not out 5
10 min, 5 balls
Extras (7lb 3w 2nb) 12
Total (for 9, 207 min, 50 overs) 237
Fall: 1-31 (Strauss) 2-44 (Bell) 3-65 (Pietersen) 4-66 (Collingwood) 5-138 (Trescothick) 6-172 (Jones) 7-208 (Bresnan) 8-214 (Dalrymple) 9-220 (Mahmood).
Bowling: Vaas 8-0-37-0 (4-0-26-0, 2-0-6-0, 2-0-5-0); Malinga 9-2-26-3 (w1) (5-1-11-0, 1-1-0-1, 3-0-15-2); Fernando 8-0-51-3 (nb2 w2) (5-0-26-3, 1-0-7-0, 1-0-9-0, 1-0-9-0); Muralitharan 10-0-47-1 (6-0-23-0, 2-0-14-0, 2-0-10-1); Dilshan 6-0-23-1 (2-0-9-0, 4-0-14-1); Jayasuriya 9-0-46-1 (3-0-20-0, 3-0-9-0, 3-0-17-1).
Trescothick's 50: 106 min, 78 balls, 6 fours; Dalrymple's 50: 84 min, 71 balls, 4 fours.
Sri Lanka won by 20 runs.
Sri Lanka lead five-match series 1-0.
Man of the match: W U Tharanga.
Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and N J Llong (Eng).
Third Umpire: I J Gould.Reuse content