Sri Lanka vs England: Alastair Cook wanted to put on a show for Philip Hughes, but his side simply failed to turn up

England well beaten at the end of a tragic week

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At the end of a long, horrendous week, England and Sri Lanka played a one-day international. In England’s case they did not play it with much skill or conviction, but maybe that was beside the point.

Perhaps playing was what mattered, as if to achieve some sense of normality in the wake of a tragedy so abnormal. The England captain, Alastair Cook, had said the day  before that the sides should “put on a show” to commemorate Phillip Hughes, whose death has shocked the game to its foundations and players of all hues to their core.

But there was to be no show  beyond showing up by these befuddled tourists, who went 2-0 down in the series and suffered their seventh defeat in their past eight matches. Sri Lanka won by eight wickets, passing England’s total of 185 with almost 11 overs in hand. Cook himself, with 22 in this match before misjudging a sweep, has scored one 50 in his past 18 innings and no hundreds in his past 41.

Under his stewardship the team are heading inexorably to their sixth successive series defeat, a sequence alleviated only by reaching the final of the Champions Trophy, which they lost. On balance, it is difficult to be optimistic about their prospects in the World Cup, which starts in February.

Questions will be asked about Cook’s fitness to continue in the role. Indeed, Kevin Pietersen, the sacked and embittered batsman, was quick to plead for Cook’s resignation in a tweet immediately after the match, which should ensure that Cook is this week awarded the job indefinitely along with a knighthood.

Cook had agreed the intensity of the match was likely to be affected by the dreadful incident in Sydney, where Hughes died after being hit in the neck by a bouncer while batting. While that undoubtedly contributed to England’s performance – nobody in sport has been untouched by Hughes’s death – there have been plenty of similar ones in the past year. “It has been a difficult day but that is the same for both sides,” Cook said. “We just never got going.”

Bats lined the balconies of both team’s dressing rooms, part of the  “putupyourbat” movement which has swept social-networking sites in homage to Hughes, who would have been 26 today. Before the start there was a minute’s silence. It was,  justifiably, impossible to escape what had happened in Australia.

In those circumstances, England went out to bat after play was delayed by an hour because of yet more rain. By the end of the second over, Moeen Ali, scorer of a glittering century in the first match, had danced down the pitch and was bowled off his pads. In the ninth, Ian Bell underhit by 15 yards his lofted drive, and before the 10th was out, Cook had followed.

Eoin Morgan, as woefully bereft of form as Cook, or Bell, or anyone, prodded to cover a ball whose pace he misjudged. Briefly, Ravi Bopara and Joe Root rallied the cause. Bopara secured his second successive 50, but the England innings contained only eight fours.

The total was obviously inadequate, which two early wickets barely masked. The wily veterans Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, playing in their final series in Sri Lanka, eased their side home.

Cook could only reprise a variation on a theme, saying: “I think you feel the heat when you’re not scoring runs. I’ve got to keep doing my basics right and believing in myself.”

He swatted away Pietersen, however. “Good job I’m not on social media,” he said. “People are totally entitled to their view. We’ve got to stay strong in the dressing room. We’ve got the honour of playing for England, the opportunity to turn it round, not other people outside.”

If only he could time his pulls and glances like that again.